With more than 600,000 acres of lakes and 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and other bodies of water across the Natural State, Arkansas residents have plenty of ways to stay cool this Fourth of July holiday. 

As families begin planning their Independence Day celebrations, several organizations are putting together guidelines for safe water practices, including the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and advertising and software company for the marine industry, Boats Group, which recently reached out to the Log Cabin Democrat with a few boating safety tips for consumers and riders alike. 

Publicist Angela Betancourt told the LCD that according to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 4,300 boating accidents occurred in 2017, totaling 650 deaths. 

“Sadly, it takes sobering statistics to put safety at the forefront of boaters’[s] minds each year,” she said. 

Boating experts with boats.com, Betancourt said, know that the more informed people are, the more enjoyable boating can be. In turn, the Boats.com Fourth of July Boating Safety Index was created: 

With more than 600,000 acres of lakes and 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and other bodies of water across the Natural State, Arkansas residents have plenty of ways to stay cool this Fourth of July holiday.

As families begin planning their Independence Day celebrations, several organizations are putting together guidelines for safe water practices, including the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and advertising and software company for the marine industry, Boats Group, which recently reached out to the Log Cabin Democrat with a few boating safety tips for consumers and riders alike.

Publicist Angela Betancourt told the LCD that according to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 4,300 boating accidents occurred in 2017, totaling 650 deaths.

“Sadly, it takes sobering statistics to put safety at the forefront of boaters’[s] minds each year,” she said.

Boating experts with boats.com, Betancourt said, know that the more informed people are, the more enjoyable boating can be. In turn, the Boats.com Fourth of July Boating Safety Index was created:

1. Fireworks on boats is not a good idea. Doing fireworks on boats is never a good idea. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that on average, 280 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around July 4. In 2017, they also reported eight deaths related to fireworks. Take the boat to a location to watch professional fireworks instead.

2. Gear Up. There’s no way to predict when an emergency will happen. It’s critical for every captain to have essential gear, including flashlights, batteries, ropes, duct tape, a waterproof whistle and a well-stocked first aid kit available at all times.

3. Check that weather app. There are few surer ways to end up in hot water while boating than to ignore weather forecasts. Also pay close attention to sudden changes in wind and water conditions.

4. Jackets required. Nothing’s more vital in an emergency than a properly-fitted life jacket. Not only does it serve as a floatation device, it’s also designed to keep an unconscious person face up, which may prevent drowning and even hypothermia.

5. Create a pre-departure checklist. It’s easy to overlook some important safe boating tools when prepping for a fun day on the water. Review a checklist before every trip to make sure everything needed has been packed.

6. Get an official safety check. Make sure vessel is in shape after a long winter. The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Power Squadrons offer free vessel safety checks. There are no consequences for failing the check and it just might identify an issue one didn’t know existed.

7. Make sure the engine passes the sniff test. This is another safety tip especially useful after a winter hiatus. After refueling, open all the hatches and smell for fumes. Carbon monoxide can easily accumulate in enclosed spaces, blocked exhaust outlets, and other spots, creating a major safety hazard.

8. Make a float plan. Leave a float plan with someone on shore. That way, in case of emergency, they’ll know something has gone wrong. Include the names of all persons on board, boat type, itinerary, types of communication options and the return time expected. 

9. Invest in a life jacket light. They provide a variety of safety features. If someone falls in the water, a light will automatically come on and help people find that person should the current move them away from the boat. It will also warn any nearby boats in the event that the person is not visible. These lights are very affordable and easy to buy online (www.amazon.com/Lifejacket-Light-DAN-Daniamant-Clip/dp/B0747S3H1B).

The group also created a list of what to do if an accident should occur:  

1. Make sure everyone is safe. That’s always the first step. Call for help immediately if someone requires medical attention. Specify exact location and what is needed.  

2. Report the accident to the U.S. Coast Guard. Reporting an accident is similar to reporting a traffic accident to the police. An official statement can help document accident details and how they occurred. Remember, reporting an accident is generally required by law.

3. Document the accident. Take photos, capturing things like injuries, boat damage and the condition of the water will help with respect to liability and insurance issues.

4. Notify your insurance company. If there’s property damage, take this step whether or not the accident fell to a person’s blame.

5. Stay calm. Any accident can trigger intense stress but it’s important to keep calm so a person can think more clearly and make important decisions.

AG&F reported a nine percent decrease in boating accidents in 2018 and a 36% decrease in boaters who died from boating-related accidents. 

However, 60 were reported in 2018, resulting in 29 injuries and seven fatalities; of those seven, six drowned due to no life vest or improper use of one, according to Cecillea Pond-Mayo, chief information office with the Arkansas House of Representatives.  

In order to ensure your safety, the AG&F wanted to remind the public about several laws passed over the years regarding boating safety to help continue to decrease the amount of property damage and to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities associated with boating. 

• Anyone born on or after January 1, 1986 must have successfully completed an approved Arkansas Game and Fish Boating Education course and carry proof while operating a motorboat or sailboat on Arkansas water.

• Every boat must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket per person on-board. Children 12 and under must be wearing their life jacket at all times. Also, no matter the age, every person aboard a personal watercraft must be wearing an approved life vest.

• To operate a personal watercraft, a person must be at least 16 years old. Children ages 12-15 must be under the direct supervision of a person of at least 18 years old. Children 12 years old and younger must be under the direct supervision of a person of at least 21 years old. 

For more information on boating safety please visit the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at www.agfc.com.