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Boating safety tips heading into Memorial Day weekend

Boating safety tips heading into Memorial Day weekend
Boating safety tips heading into Memorial Day weekend 02:56

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Today marks the official start of the summer boating season -- and those in charge of keeping Pennsylvania's waters safe say that despite their best efforts, lives are lost every year.

KDKA's John Shumway has their boating words of caution.

The Fish and Boat Commission wants you to have a great time on the water, but each year, on average, 11 lives are lost.

Hitting the water under a sunny sky can be exhilarating and safe. 

"Wear your life jacket!" Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Tim Schaeffer said. "Every year in Pennsylvania and across the country, we see about 80% of the boating fatalities are result of people not wearing their life jackets."

The Fish and Boat Commission says not only do you need a life jacket for every person on board, they also have to fit properly.

Schaeffer says with children, it's good to have them mimic like they were celebrating a touchdown, and if you pull the jacket up, and it doesn't go over their heads, then that means it fits properly.

Adults in Pennsylvania are only required to wear life jackets on boats under 16 feet from November 1 through April 30 and on Pittsburgh District U.S. Corps of Engineers lakes like the Youghiogheny River Lake.

All children under 12, however, must wear a life jacket on all boats under 20 feet, all canoes, and all kayaks.

Before hitting the water, the Boat Commission strongly advises filing a float plan.

"Send a text or a written note to let someone know where you're planning to boat and when you plan to be home," said Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Director of Boating Laurel Anders.

Anders also suggests sending location updates throughout the day. 

"Keeping someone aware of your location throughout the day can help ensure that help arrives quickly if you experience a medical or mechanical issue while you're on the water," Anders said.

When on rivers, there's a special set of guidance.

"Have an anchor available on the boat that's going to be sufficient enough to stop that boat if we need time to repair it before it goes over an obstacle or something like that," said Waterways Conservation Officer Mark Sweppenhiser.

It's also recommended to have a designated boat driver.

"The legal limit for boating under the influence is the same as driving under the influence so please do not boat impaired this Memorial Day weekend," Sweppenhiser said.

If you're going someplace new, it's a good idea to take someone along who knows that water and don't assume the fuel left over in your tank from last year is going to be good. The last thing you want is to stall out in the middle of the river.

No one under the age of 11 can take the wheel. Anyone else taking the wheel is required to have passed the boating safety education class and have your certificate with you. 

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