With the weather warming up, many are preparing to head out to the lake. One of the most important things to consider is boater safety. Deputy Ryan Larsen emphasized the importance of taking a national safe boating course. This course is not mandatory but is recommended for boaters of all types, shapes, and sizes. It is offered by the Bear Lake County Sheriff's Office and is free of charge.
Sheriff Bart Heslington oversees the boating program, has three patrol vessels, and administers law enforcement on the lake.
Although boaters are not required to take a boating education class or obtain certification to boat in Idaho, all boaters must be competent and familiar with navigation rules. Simple tasks can become very difficult if you do not know what you are doing. Simple mistakes can turn into a boating emergency very quickly.
The boating safety course is covered in six chapters of the boating safety handbook, with the first chapter going over becoming familiar with your boat. Learning the correct terminology and specifications of your watercraft is essential. Many first- timers experience serious accidents simply because they do not know the handling characteristics and turning capabilities of their boats.
There are things you should do before getting underway. You can prepare a float plan that will map out your intended destination and route for the day, designate an emergency contact and a time of departure and your expected return. In the event that you do not return at the time indicated, the friend or family member may contact State Parks and Recreation to report you missing and start a search and rescue effort.
It is very important to know your boat and operate it safely. Every boat has a little different handling features and characteristics. Jet boats, for example, will not steer without power and have a very steep learning curve. When on the water, you must be able to know and identify floating buoy navigation and safety markers. Their color, markings, shape, and size are all relevant. Some markers indicate that boats are prohibited from the area, and a square shape on the markers provide helpful information such as directions, distances, and locations.
Owning a boat is a very big responsibility, and there are specific legal requirements. A current registration for power boats should always be handy and kept in a waterproof pouch and available upon request from an officer. Functional safety equipment includes day and night signals. Lighting is also required. Having a fire extinguisher on board and letting your passengers know the location of it is mandatory. Some boats are carbureted and must be fitted with an approved flame arrestor. Some type of sound-producing device such as a horn, whistle, or bell are required and need to be stowed in a safe place. Signal flares, diver down, skier down, and distress flags are also a good idea for boats of all sizes.
You must know how to handle boating emergencies and be able to react if something unexpected happens. Boating safety is always the captain's responsibility; it is vital to keep himself and the passengers safe at all times. Proactive risk management and steps toward accident prevention are necessary. Since Bear Lake is considered a cold water lake, hypothermia can set in very quickly. Having a life jacket can be the difference between life and death, extending your survivability for up to three hours. According to Deputy Larsen, this is the single most important thing that can be done to improve safety on the lake. He even went on to emphasize that children should be wearing life jackets while on the shore, near the water, or on the dock.
Being out in the sun all day and not wearing a hat can increase the risk of heat stroke. It is important to hydrate by drinking enough water. Substituting beer or other alcoholic drinks can be a recipe for disaster. If you have ever been out on the open water, the natural wave motion of the boat can cause nausea and motion sickness. If one of your passengers gets hurt, personal injury training and knowing basic first aid can be a major responsibility. Having a first aid kit on board will help treat injuries until professional medical help and can be a life saver. Having a radio on board for entertainment can be enjoyable, but with a VHF marine radio tuned to channel 16, you can call out for emergency services making rescue efforts proceed more expediently. This channel is always monitored for boating emergencies. Listed on a sidebar on the radio are stations that broadcast NOAA weather reports, which are updated each hour. Keep an eye out for severe wind conditions that can develop very quickly, whipping the once-calm surface into swells and waves that can make navigation very difficult.
Finally, just get out with the family and enjoy water sports with your boat. You have a responsibility to yourself and your passengers to maintain an enjoyable but safe day on the lake. Jet skis are known to travel at high speeds and sometimes come out of nowhere. You should always keep an eye out for kayaks, paddle boards, sail boats, and other self-propelled watercraft; they have the right of way. Being a Good Samaritan on the water is expected; always be ready to come to the aid of a fellow boater if needed. One last thing that should be realized is that hunters and fisherman often take for granted that, while in a boat, they should act as a boater. Having heavy clothing and waders on increases the chances that if they fall overboard they may drown without their life preservers being securely attached.
Deputy Larsen wanted to make clear that he and his team are there for the boaters' safety, not just to write citations. He encourages everyone to enjoy and have a good time while out on the lake but to be safe. Deputy Larsen encourages all boaters to feel free to ask any questions to the Bear Lake County Sheriff's office members who are present in marked patrol vessels.
To locate local course offerings or for more information on recreational boating and boating safety, contact the Bear Lake County Sheriff's office marine division at www.blcso.us/marine-division.