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Don’t rock the boat


Remember boating safety rules

Many lakes in Kentucky are likely to resemble the interstate at rush hour this July 4 holiday. Expect crowded launching ramps, the buzz of personal watercraft zipping around the water, and boats driven by novice operators.

Zac Campbell, boating education coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, offers a few words of advice for those stuck in an aquatic traffic jam: slow down and pay attention.

“On really busy holidays, the boat’s operator has to remain extremely attentive,” Campbell says. “They need to go slower than they normally would, and they should be wearing a life jacket at all times, especially when they’re underway or it’s night.”

State law requires kids under 12 to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket any time they’re in an open portion of a boat that’s underway. They do not need to wear one if they’re inside the cabin of a houseboat or cruiser, or the boat is moored and not moving. Water wings are not Coast Guard-approved.

Boaters 12 and older don’t have to wear a life jacket, but the boat must have a readily accessible, Coast Guard-approved one for every person in the boat. Readily accessible includes storing vests in unlocked seat bins. Be sure to take off the plastic outer wrap, which can hinder the use of the vest in an emergency.

“If a person can’t swim, they really need to have a life jacket on at all times,” Campbell says. “People who are strong swimmers should try this test: dive in the lake then have someone throw them a vest. Now try to put it on—it’s difficult to do once you’re in the water.”

All operators and passengers of personal watercraft, regardless of age, must wear an approved life jacket.

Kentucky also regulates the ages of boat operators. A person must be at least 12 years old to operate any boat with a motor output of 10 horsepower or more. Boaters 12‑17 years old must first pass a boating education class. Adults 18 and older do not need to take the course, but it’s still a good way to learn the basics.

Finally, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes whenever you’re boating. “On really busy holidays, it’s always good to have a spotter in the boat. People think they only need a spotter for water skiing, but it’s always good to have a lookout for the operator.”

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