PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants the community to be safe every day, but especially on Memorial Day weekend while hundreds of boaters flock to the Gulf of Mexico and other bodies of water.
They said they will be doing plenty of routine stops, so if safety isn’t enough of a reason to make sure you’re prepared, do it so you won’t get a ticket.
These are the items boats must have on board:
–Wearable life jacket: there needs to be one to account for every person on board the watercraft. They also have to be suited for the size of each person. According to FWC guidelines, children of 5 years and younger must be wearing a life jacket at all times on the water.
–Sound-producing device: a whistle, an air horn, or a boat horn works. FWC officials advise you to test your boat horn before going offshore. They said weather conditions can easily deteriorate boat features.
–Fire extinguisher: FWC officials said almost every boat is required to have one.
–Throwable flotation device: This pertains to vessels 16 ft. and up.
–Flare: Required only if going offshore.
Paddle craft like kayakers or paddle boarders must have a life jacket and a sound-producing device on board as well. If they don’t, they could face a fine of more than $100.
FWC Regional Commander Major Fred Rondeau mentioned two devices that could come in handy. He said a VHF radio and a personal locator beacon are two useful items in the case of an emergency.
The VHF radio is a marine radio that can reach the Coast Guard no matter where you are. He said you could even be 100 miles or more offshore and it will still work.
The personal locator beacon sends GPS location to the Coast Guard when activated. Major Rondeau said they can be expensive, but if you can afford it, then it is worth the purchase.
While all boating safety tips are important, FWC officials said wearing a life jacket is the most crucial. They said 64% of local fatal boating accidents last year could have been prevented if the boater just wore a life jacket.
There have been a couple of recent boating incidents in Northwest Florida. There have been at least 10 fatal boat incidents this year.
Being sober while driving the boat and paying close attention to the water is also important.
FWC officials and the Coast Guard are going to be closely watching the waters Memorial Day weekend. Their routine traffic stops will include field sobriety tests where they see necessary.
FWC officials said many people don’t realize they are able to arrest people, and they will if they need to.
All boaters born after 1988, are required to have a boater license if they plan to operate the boat at any given time.
If you are not wearing a life jacket and you get stranded in the water, Major Rondeau said to check to see if you can reach the bottom of the water.
He said there have been unfortunate circumstances where people die drowning in three feet of water simply because they did not realize how shallow it was.
The most important tip to staying afloat is not to panic, but to remain calm. He suggested blowing into your wet shirt, if applicable, to act as a flotation device. Pants work too. He said to tie the legs together and blow them up with your mouth.
Throughout FWC training, Major Rondeau said he would let himself sink to the bottom of the water, stand to regain energy, then float back to the top.
More safety tips and guidelines can be found by clicking this link to FWC’s website.