With National Boating Safety Week coming to a close, Wildlife Enforcement Officer Eric Gleason wants to remind boaters to be safe on the waters and to make sure their boats are following the state safety requirements to be on the water.
For someone to operate a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater, they must have successfully completed a boating safety education course and carry that certification and their ID on them while operating the boat, Gleason said.
Boats require special paperwork as well. Any boat under power must be registered, and those decals have to be displayed on the starboard and portside bow, Gleason added.
Thirty-five people died in boating accidents in North Carolina last year, the most since 1990, Gleason said. Twenty-nine of those people were not wearing a life jacket.
While on the boat, every person onboard must have a Coast Guard Certified life jacket or personal flotation device.
“All children, including infants, under the age of 13 must be wearing a personal flotation device at all times while the boat is moving,” Gleason said, noting most people are unaware that even infants, even ones being held, require a life jacket.
Staying safe on the water includes making sure your boat’s lights are working and in the right place. Navigation lights must be turned on if the boat is in operation after sunset, with a red light displayed on the port side and a green light on the starboard side with an all around white light from the stern, according to Gleason.
In addition to life jackets, it is required by law to keep at least one fire extinguisher onboard if your boat is less than 26 feet in length. For boats at 26 feet in length and longer, multiple fire extinguishers are required, as well as a throwable flotation device.
As for jet skis, they cannot be in operation between sunset and sunrise and everyone must be wearing a life jacket and the person operating the jet ski must have the cut off switch attached to his or her person.
“If you for some reason fall off, you want the jet ski to switch off,” Gleason said, adding that a rogue jet ski can cause bodily injury and almost always property damage.
No person under the age of 14 may operate a jet ski and people between the ages of 14 and 16 may operate a jet ski if they are accompanied by a person who is at least 18 and has passed a boater safety course or if the person between the ages of 14 and 16 has passed a boating safety education course.
Make sure your jet ski has a fire extinguisher onboard too.
While out on the water, Gleason said it is important to pay attention to your surroundings and to not operate the boat while impaired.
When asked what is the biggest issue he combats locally, Gleason said: “Alcohol.”
It is not illegal in North Carolina to have beer and wine onboard, but it is illegal to operate a vessel while impaired.
Thanks to a recent law, if a person causes injury beyond first-aid care as a result of an impaired boating accident, it is considered a felony in North Carolina, Gleason said.
“Sheyenne’s Law” was put into effect after a 17-year-old Concord teenager was struck and killed by an impaired driver while kneeboarding on Lake Norman in 2015.
“We just want everyone to have a fun and safe summer,” Gleason said.
If you find yourself in distress on the water, call 911, he added.
The next time Gleason will be teaching a free boating safety education course will be on June 9 at the Grace Chapel Fire Department near Granite Falls.
Correction: This article was corrected at 10:40 a.m. on May 25 to reflect the correct navigation light law terms and fire extinguisher laws.