Officials offer tips for a safe boating experience

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published July 13, 2015


OAKLAND COUNTY —  The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and local officials are reminding residents to take precautions before taking vessels on the lakes.

Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a press release that boats and personal watercraft are more reliable these days; however, the operator must have a basic understanding of the mechanical system and how to operate the vessel.

Just because a person can drive a car doesn’t mean he or she can operate a boat or personal watercraft.

“These vessels will travel up to 70 mph and require a certain level of skill and training to safely operate them,” Bouchard said. “Unlike a car, they do not have brakes, safety belts or airbags.”

Before venturing out onto the water, the sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Water Rescue Unit suggests running through a pre-launch safety checklist:

• Carry a personal flotation device for everyone on board and a throwable flotation device. Children ages 6 and younger must wear a Type I or Type II flotation device.

• Carry a sound-producing device — such as a horn, a bell or a whistle — a fire extinguisher and a certificate of registration.

• Check the capacity plate, and the navigation and running lights.

• Check the engine compartment for fuel, oil or water leaks.

• Check the bilge pump, the steering system and the blower motor/ventilation.

• Review the float plan and have emergency equipment on hand.

“Regardless of what type of vessel you are preparing to launch, your summer startup preparations will play a large part in how safe and enjoyable your boating season will be,” Bouchard said in a press release.

In December, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation reducing the allowable blood alcohol percentage from 0.10 to 0.08 for drivers operating watercraft, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles. If the Marine Patrol and Water Rescue Unit stops someone for erratic driving and suspects that alcohol is involved, officers will administer a field sobriety test. If someone fails three or four field sobriety tests, they will be turned over to a member of the Alcohol Enforcement Team or a local police department for a Breathalyzer test.

According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Water Rescue Unit, over 80 percent of all water-related accidents and deaths are the result of reckless operation, alcohol and/or not wearing a life jacket.

The West Bloomfield Fire Department trains the entire department through the winter and when residents begin putting their boats in the water. Though a majority of West Bloomfield’s rescues take place during the winter when the ice is thin, summer accidents are mostly traumas, West Bloomfield Capt. Mark Lawry said.

“The one thing that’s nice about our boat is the ability to put it anywhere. I don’t need a boat launch to put it in the water. We’ll show up in the driveway, disconnect (the boat) and hand-push it into the lake,” Lawry said.

Ease of access, Lawry said, decreases the department’s response time.

The West Bloomfield Fire Department will respond to neighboring communities if assistance is needed, and Lawry said the department is fortunate to have some of the better equipment for water rescues, and it does get called fairly often to support other communities.

The biggest issue that watercraft drivers face is the lack of a boater safety certificate. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources website has a list of options for obtaining a boater safety certificate, and people can even complete the course online and print off their certificate.

“If parents are looking for an easy way to get it done and keep (kids) out of trouble … there’s many ways they can get the certificate done,” Lawry said, adding that people also need to carry their certificate when operating a watercraft.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, children younger than 12 years of age may operate a boat without restrictions if the boat has a less than 6-horsepower motor. Children younger than 12 may also operate a boat with a less than 35-horsepower motor if they have been issued and are carrying a boating safety certificate, and if someone at least 16 years old is on board supervising.

Children younger than 14 years are not permitted to legally operate a personal watercraft. Kids ages 14-15 may operate a personal watercraft if they have a boating certificate and are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, or a person who is at least 21 years of age. In addition, they must drive not more than 100 feet from the adult. Teens at least 16 years old may operate a personal watercraft only if they have received a boating safety certificate.

People born on or before Dec. 31, 1978, may drive a personal watercraft without restrictions.

“A lot of traumas we have run into is a kid who is sitting on (a Jet Ski) bumps the throttle and runs into something,” Lawry said.

To find a boating safety class, visit The Oakland County Sheriff’s Marine Unit provides boating classes throughout the county, as well. To sign up for a free boating class, visit and search “safety classes.”