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MONDAY, JULY 2, 2007
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Neil Moats of Decatur wakeboards on the Tennessee River. If youíre going to water-ski or participate in other water sports, get at least five miles away from marinas, where traffic will be high. Try to find an out-of-the-way spot, and always have someone onboard watch the skier and be prepared to alert the driver to any problems.
Daily photos by Brennen Smith
Neil Moats of Decatur wakeboards on the Tennessee River. If youíre going to water-ski or participate in other water sports, get at least five miles away from marinas, where traffic will be high. Try to find an out-of-the-way spot, and always have someone onboard watch the skier and be prepared to alert the driver to any problems.

Smooth Sailing
Follow these not-so-obvious safety guidelines every boater should know

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2447

If it is soon time for you to suit up into a bright orange life vest, slather on SPF 45 sunblock, and feel the wind in your wet locks as you skip along the water, listen up.

While a day out on the river is a fun way to spend time with friends or family, it also can be dangerous if you arenít careful. And with Independence Day around the corner, local waterways will soon be clogged with boaters — many not properly prepared for safe boating.

ďIf you want to see something funny, go to the Hard Dock Cafť (on the Fourth),Ē said Riverwalk Marina operator Steve Conner, referring to the number of infrequent, inexperienced boaters who have trouble putting their boats in at the dock. ďItís kind of like Ďamateur night.í Ē

Patrick McNally, driving, and Zack Scott ride a WaveRunner on the Tennessee River. Pay attention when youíre on the water during the busy Fourth of July holiday.
Patrick McNally, driving, and Zack Scott ride a WaveRunner on the Tennessee River. Pay attention when youíre on the water during the busy Fourth of July holiday.
And thatís just at the dock.

In 2005, there were nearly 5,000 boating accidents nationwide, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Nearly 700 people died in those accidents.

So this holiday and for the rest of the boating season, keep the basics in mind — wear your life vest, donít drink and drive on the water, and watch your children carefully.

Boating experts Conner, Ed Orton of Jays Landing Marina and Randy Jones of the Alabama Marine Police also offer lesser-known boating tips to help keep your trip safe, fun and hassle-free.

Listen to the weather before you head out. Getting caught in bad weather really kills a good time on the water and can be very dangerous. If you do get caught in a storm, tie your boat to a tree on shore and take refuge on shore.

Run the Bilge Blower. Before you start your boatís inboard engine, donít forget to run the bilge blower for at least four minutes to clear out any potentially explosive fumes that may have built up in the bilge. Conner has seen boats explode into flames because the operators did not check the bilge before they started the engine. Also, raise the hatch of the boat when youíre fueling to ensure that connecting hoses arenít leaking gasoline into the bilge.

Donít pile on. Boats have a legal capacity for a reason. If you go over that set capacity, your watercraft may nosedive into the water. This is especially common on pontoon boats. ďThereís more room in them, so they (boaters) think the boats can handle more people,Ē Conner said.

De-clutter the deck. If you are bringing children on board, always make sure they keep their life vests on and that the deck is uncluttered. Itís easy to trip over items on the deck and go overboard, especially because boats are unsteady vessels that rock easily. Advise everyone to stay seated as much as possible.

Know the rules of the ďroad.Ē Many boaters, especially the ones who come out only for holidays like the Fourth of July, havenít taken the time to refresh themselves on standard boating guidelines. For example, few boaters sound their horns three times when backing out of a slip, though it is a standard rule, Orton said. Orton suggested that everyone read and keep onboard ďChapman Navigation RulesĒ — a small book with the latest boating rules and regulations and other boating safety tips. Boats 12 meters (or 39 feet) and longer are actually required to keep a copy onboard.

Give yourself some space. If youíre going to water-ski or participate in other water sports, get at least five miles away from marinas, where traffic will be high. Try to find an out-of-the-way spot, and always have someone onboard watch the skier and be prepared to alert the driver to any problems.

Pay attention! Inattention is one of the top contributing causes in boating accidents. This is a common problem for operators of personal watercraft, who tend to look only in front of them. These craft often end up going directly into a larger craftís path because their operators are not paying attention to either side or behind them.

Know where youíre drinking. If you plan to drink alcohol on your boat, make sure you know which county youíre boating in, cautioned Randy Jones, marine theft investigator with the Alabama Marine Police. Only two counties on the Tennessee River are wet — Colbert and Madison counties. If youíre found with alcohol on your boat in dry counties, you could be cited for the offense.

Wear the kill switch. Itís a basic operating requirement, but many boaters donít wear the safety switch that will turn off the boatís engine in case the operator trips and falls or strays too far from the controls. A boat traveling at high speeds with no one controlling it could quickly lead to disaster.

Being on the dock doesnít make you Superman. When youíre docking the boat, keep in mind its massive weight. Donít try to stop it if itís coming in too quickly, and donít get between the boat and the slip — you can easily be crushed, Conner warned, who has witnessed these accidents firsthand.

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