Outdoors: The best boating tip? Wear it!

Way back when I was a teenager — eons ago — I worked at my uncle’s boat landing on Indian Lake.

All you old timers will remember that time for the riots that took place in the early 1960s in the town of Russells Point for a few years on Fourth of July weekends. It was the combination of college kids and beer, a recipe for an explosion.

Working on the other end of the lake, I wasn’t involved in all the “merry making,” but we did get plenty of first-hand reports of what was going on as folks stopped in for bait, gas or grub.

One thing I have always remembered from that weekend in 1961 was a drowning on Indian Lake. The 6,334-acre lake has a high volume of high-speed boat traffic every summer weekend and the Fourth of July weekend tops them all (weather permitting). It was like that back then and it’s like that now — probably more now because of all the jet skis.

I remember there were fatalities when a pontoon boat flipped. And as I recall, they were not wearing life jackets. It was a real tragedy.

That, sadly, keeps happening. The U.S. Coast Guard has reported that in 83 percent of the 2016 drownings in America, no life jackets were worn.

When you go on a boat, many things can happen. Most of them are good, but there is always the potential for danger. Boating accidents happen, but most are the result of poor planning or no planning.

Here are a few tips from the National Safe Boating Council for a safer ride on the Fourth of July … or any day on the water.

• Wear a life jacket. It cannot be stressed enough. Make sure everyone is wearing a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. New innovative styles provide mobility and flexibility during water activities.

• Check equipment. Schedule a free vessel safety check with area U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or state watercraft officers to make sure you have all the essential equipment.

• Make a float plan. Let family and friends know where you’re going and when you will return.

• Use an engine cutoff device. This is a proven safety device to stop the boat’s engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.

• Watch the weather. Always check the forecast before departing on the water and frequently during your excursion.

• Know what’s going on around you. Nearly a quarter of all reported boating accidents in 2016 were caused by operator inattention or improper lookout.

• Know where you’re going and travel at safe speeds. Familiarize yourself with local boating speed zones and always travel at a safe speed.

• Never boat under the influence. A BUI is involved in one-third of all recreational boating fatalities. If there is booze on board, make sure to have a non-drinking designated driver.

• Keep in touch. Cell phones, satellite phones, EPIRB or personal locator beacon, and VHF radios can all be important devices in an emergency.

Ramped: A new boat ramp has opened on the southeast side of Grand Lake St. Marys. The Little Chickasaw Boat Ramp, located at 5243 Mercer-Auglaize County Line Road, opened June 12 to provide public access to the lake for fishermen and recreational boaters. It was paid for by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, using money from federal sources. No state money was used on the $763,000 project.

The new launch site includes a two-lane concrete boat ramp with fixed eight-foot-wide courtesy/launch docks and 45 parking spaces.

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