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Memorial Day weekend may still technically be part of spring, but it’s the unofficial beginning of summer in most Arkansans’ minds. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wants everyone to have a great weekend enjoying all The Natural State has to offer, but please remember to take safety seriously. Wear your life jacket, only operate a boat sober and respect the power of the water.
Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating law administrator, says the number one safety precaution boaters should take is to have a properly fitting life jacket for everyone on board.
“By law, all children 12 and under must have their life jacket on and secured any time they are on the boat, but everyone should wear them any time a boat is underway,” Weatherington said. “Nearly every boating fatality we deal with could have been avoided if the victim had worn a properly fitting life jacket.”
The second most common issue Arkansas game wardens run across on the water is people boating while intoxicated. Not only does being caught boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs carry a stiff fine, it also is grounds for a person to lose their driver’s license just as though they were ticketed for driving a car under the influence.
Weatherington says the effects of alcohol also are magnified by the conditions boating creates.
“The sun, heat, wind and motion all intensify alcohol’s impact on a person,” Weatherington said. “A person who normally wouldn’t feel much effect of one or two beers in an indoor setting may find themselves impaired much more quickly on the water.”
The added impact of alcohol can be a danger to passengers as well as drivers. Although not illegal, passengers who consume too much alcohol can make poor judgements that can lead to injuries and death as well.
Finally, a special note goes out to those who are looking to enjoy boating on rivers or streams where current can be present. Always respect the power of the water and don’t risk paddling in current unless you are prepared and have experience paddling around obstacles.
Kirsten Bartlow, Watchable Wildlife Program coordinator for the AGFC who establishes Arkansas Water Trails throughout the state, says root wads and trees that have fallen in an outside bend of a stream or river are much more dangerous than they appear.
“The current will try to pull you toward the obstruction and can cause your boat to become pinned or overturn,” Bartlow said. “I always try to get out of the canoe and walk the boat around it. It’s really unbelievable just how strong the current can be if you get stuck in a spot where the water is funneling through.”
Bartlow and Weatherington conclude their water safety talks with nearly the same statement, and it’s one to take to heart.
“It’s not a competition. You’re out there to have fun, and there’s no shame in knowing your limits,” Bartlow said.