Stay safe on Michigan’s waterways this boating season

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott, Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published June 4, 2016

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METRO DETROIT — While there’s plenty of fun to be had on Michigan’s abundance of lakes and rivers this summer, there are also many potential dangers that can be easily avoided.

Local emergency personnel say that by following the rules of the water, all can enjoy a safe boating season this year.

“It comes down to common sense,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham. “Be aware of your surroundings.”

That goes for those on motorized boats as well as those utilizing nonmotorized boats like kayaks, canoes and paddleboats, all of which are growing exponentially in popularity.

In the past, canoes and kayaks were made with vibrant colors — silver, yellow, red — to stand out, West Bloomfield Fire Lt. Matt Majestic explained. Recently, however, the nonmotorized water vessels have been marketed in camouflage patterns — blues, browns and greens — that blend with the water. The color change, in Majestic’s opinion, was to appeal to the fishers and hunters.

Despite the appeal, the colors are instead becoming dangerous, as they are more difficult to see, especially at night, he said. Oftentimes, fishers tend to stick near the shoreline — about 100-150 feet away — which is where the nonmotorized boats frequent, and those driving motorized boats need to be cognizant of what is in front of them, Majestic said.

“A person paddling a kayak is not going to be able to get out of the way of a boat coming at them (at) 25-35 mph,” Majestic said, adding that drivers should have a spotter so the driver can “only put their thoughts on where they’re going and looking ahead of them.”

Wickersham recommends that those on a nonmotorized boat keep a safe distance from motorized boats and remain close to the shoreline.

Some of the worst accidents Majestic has seen are when a distracted driver hits docks or individual swim platforms. Spotters should be scanning the horizon and looking for objects that would “appear to be sticking out of the water, which are usually people on kayaks,” he said.

Wickersham said it’s important for all boaters to thoroughly check over their watercraft to ensure it’s in good working condition.

“Everyone on a boat must wear a life jacket when the boat is in motion,” he said. “There should be a PFD (personal flotation device) for every person on board.”

Children ages 6 and younger must wear a Type I or Type II flotation device. The flotation devices should also match a person’s body type.

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office Marine Division patrols 89 square miles of Lake St. Clair, 30.5 miles of shoreline and 57 miles of connecting rivers, canals and streams.

At the conclusion of Safe Boating Week May 21-27, Wickersham and members of the Marine Division recognized local seventh-grade students who completed the division’s boating safety course and scored 100 percent on the test.

During the 2015 boating season, the Marine Division put in more than 3,100 hours of patrols. The men and women of the Marine Division responded to 19 search and rescue missions, 31 general assist calls, and had more than 2,700 contacts with boaters.

The Marine Division is comprised of four year-round personnel and is augmented by four additional deputy sheriffs during the summer patrol season.

Wickersham said there have been no major boating collisions or fatalities reported so far this boating season, which traditionally begins in Michigan in April, though on March 30, a man drowned after his fishing boat capsized near the Michigan Department of Natural Resources boat launch. His fishing companion was able to cling to the boat and call for help, and was hospitalized for hypothermia.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there are no fatalities (this year),” said Wickersham. “We want everyone to enjoy the boating season.”

“Nobody ever plans for the accident. The kayakers, the paddleboarders, we tend to get a little complacent with our skills and our abilities,” Majestic said. “Accidents happen in a second or less.”

Wickersham and Majestic are adamant in passing along the message that if people are drinking while on a vessel, just like with automobiles, there should be a designated driver.

Boater safety classes and additional safety tips are available on the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office website at www.macomb sheriff.com, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office website, www.oakgov.com/sheriff, and online courses can be taken on the Department of Natural Resources site at www.mchigan.gov/dnr.

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