Sun’s out, boats out: Tips to stay safe on the water

With the warmer temperatures comes boats on the water. The Pasco Fire Department, the only city department to have a water rescue boat, is urging boaters to take several steps to ensure a safe, fun time on the river.

First, a life jacket. This tool could be the difference between life and death.

“If an accident happens out there on the river, it happens so quickly,” said Ben Shearer with the Pasco Fire Department. “There’s no time to go find that life vest.”

Kids 13 and under are required to wear a life jacket. However, Shearer recommends every person on a boat to wear one. By law, a boat must have one life jacket per person on board. They also need to be Coast Guard approved.

“Most of the water emergencies we have out there on the river is people not wearing a life jacket,” Shearer said.

A life jacket shouldn’t come off your shoulders or go above your ears. If you hit the water, you shouldn’t be able to slip out, Shearer says.

If others decide to join your day on the boat, life jacket loaner boards are available at several docks across the Tri-Cities. They’re full of jackets of different sizes. While you’re encouraged to take them, Shearer says to put them back when you’re done so other people can use them.

Before getting the boat on the water, you should check the mechanics on the boat.

“One of the biggest things we see are boats that aren’t ready,” Shearer said. “They run out of fuel. They didn’t get their motor checked.”

Along with life jackets, the boat needs to be stocked with other safety items such as a fire extinguisher, oars, flares, and a signal horn or whistle. Another tool is a throw pillow. If someone happens to go into the water without a life jacket and is in crisis, the pillow can be thrown to them in order to keep the person afloat.

If you decide to have an overnight trip on the water, a carbon monoxide detector is recommended.

“We have cases every now and then where people are on the river, spending the night and they’re using heaters cause it still gets cold at night,” Shearer explained. “It ends up producing CO [carbon monoxide] and they can end up dying on their boat in the middle of the night.”

There are also some tips for jet ski drivers.

“Each time you’re out on a personal watercraft like a jet ski or something like that, you’ll definitely want to know the river,” Shearer said. “We do have incidents every year it seems like, especially the ones that get rented. People don’t know where they’re headed. They’re not used to that area.”

Another thing to keep in mind is the colored buoys on the water.

If you’re going upstream, the red buoy needs to be to your right and green to the left.

“If you’re between the red and the green buoys, on the river, you’re basically in the shipping channel,” said Dan Sullivan, a firefighter with Pasco Fire. “There’s a lot of Coast Guard regulations that apply to that so don’t assume you have the right of way because you were there first.”

While on the water, Shearer says the sheriff’s office patrols the rivers. One thing they look out for is boaters boating under the influence, or BUI.

According to Washington State Parks, refusing to take a breath test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050. The legal limit is the same as if you were driving a car.

In 2017, alcohol and drugs were a primary factor in 44% of fatal boating accidents in Washington state.

If you’re guilty of BUI, you can face a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to a year in jail.

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