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Boating is a favorite pastime for Wisconsin residents. With the snow melting and temperatures rising, boats will soon be filling our lakes again. After all, what’s better than spending a beautiful afternoon with friends and family on the water? While these days make for great memories, tragedy can strike if you don’t take proper care before heading out.

The Coast Guard reported 4,291 accidents and 658 fatalities involving boats nationwide in 2017. Despite being a downward trend from the previous year, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. There are many simple things boaters can do to keep themselves safe on the water.

Life vests are vital

Wearing your life vest is the most important action you can take should you be involved in a boating accident. Eighty-two percent of drowning victims were not wearing life vests. These numbers are startling considering how preventable many of these are. Life vests don’t guarantee that you won’t drown but research shows that wearing one increases your chances of survival.

Eyes on the water

Operating a boat is a major responsibility. You’re responsible for your own safety, as well as that of your passengers and other boaters’ safety. Being behind the wheel is a duty that requires your full attention. Yet, operator inattentiveness is a leading cause of boating accidents. Inattentiveness may play into collisions with recreational boats and fixed objects, which are the two most common types of boating accidents.

Limit your distractions when behind the wheel whether it’s rowdy passengers, loud music or your cell phone, do your best to keep your focus on your surroundings.

Alcohol and boating can be a dangerous mix

Alcohol was the biggest factor in boater deaths in 2017. Impaired judgement and slow reaction times make it difficult to read and react to danger ahead. The Coast Guard also cautions against too much alcohol and not enough non-alcoholic drinks like water and juice. These factors combined with the hot sun increase the likelihood of dehydration.

Boating under the influence (BUI) is another potential consequence of operating a boat after a few drinks. BUI is a serious offense in Wisconsin. Possible penalties include fines, jail and mandatory participation in a boat safety class.

Control what you can control

You may not be able to control things like the weather but there are several significant safety measures you can implement. Wearing your life vest and limiting distractions and alcohol while operating a boat are three simple steps to take for a season of happy memories on the lake.