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Memorial Day kicks off boating season

Gone are the quiet days on the water.

During the colder months of winter and spring about the only boats you will see on the water are fishing boats.

As the water warms up, boat traffic increases, and this holiday weekend unofficially marks the beginning of pleasure boat season.

From now through Labor Day, our lakes and rivers will see a tremendous increase in boat traffic, and the chances of a boating accident are much greater during this time.

Some people may dislike the high-speed, slicked-out 20 to 21-foot bass boats with motors pushing 250 to 300 horse power, but according to state boating accident reports, there are very few accidents involving high speed bass boats. Most of the people that own these high-performance rigs are expert boat drivers that stay on the water year-round. Most of these boat owners know the rules of the water.

The problems occur when people that don’t know the rules pull their boats out of storage and that is what’s going on this weekend.

Surface water temperatures of the area lakes now averages about 84 degrees and is warm enough for swimming and skiing. Some ski boaters, Jet Ski drivers and pontoon owners are very experienced operators and some are not. The same thing can be said about some bass boat owners that lack experience and common since.

I have had some close calls with a few inexperienced boaters over the years I have been on the water, and it was scary. A bit of tricky maneuvering on my part avoided an accident. I am a paranoid boat driver, so I’m scanning what’s ahead of me while driving.

When I shut down, I glance over my shoulder to see if another boat is riding my transom. Boats don’t have brakes, so you should never run up behind a boat. They could suddenly shut down, change directions or the motor could malfunction.

We have at least one accident a year that takes someone’s life on Concordia Parish waters. In most cases, it involves bodies of waters like the Black River/Horseshoe Lake Complex.

These two popular fishing and recreational lakes are joined by Workinger Bayou. This little bayou has many sharp bends and blind curves. Cross Bayou is connected to this same complex. Cross has more dangerous bends that Workinger Bayou.

If people would slow down when approaching these sharp bends and follow the No. 1 rule on the water — keep to the right — there would be fewer accidents.

In Louisiana, a certain age group has to take and pass a boater’s safety education course to operate a boat with a motor larger than 10 horsepower. It would be a good idea for everyone that drives a boat to take the course. You may learn something that will help you avoid an accident.

The Louisiana law states that persons born after January 1, 1984, may not operate a motorboat or personal watercraft powered by a motor greater than 10 horsepower unless he or she has successfully completed a boating safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. These persons must be in possession of evidence of completion of the approved course whenever operating such a vessel.

Even if not required by law to get the Louisiana boating license, many boaters take the boat safety course in order to save on their personal watercraft or boat insurance.

You can take the course online at boat-ed.com/louisiana/index.html.

Alcohol is involved in most boating accidents. Driving a boat while drinking carries the same stiff fines and possible jail time as a DWI on the highway, so never drive a boat while drinking alcohol.

As sad as it is, it is going to happen. You will pick up the newspaper one morning and read about someone getting hurt or killed in a boating accident. Just don’t let that someone be you.

Know your boat; know what it takes to be legal on the water and practice safe boating. Please help us make this an accident-free boating season.

Visit the Louisiana and Mississippi departments of Wildlife and Fisheries’ websites for boating safety courses and what it takes to be legal on the water. If you don’t use computers, pamphlets are available by mail.

Be safe. The busy season is here.


Eddie Roberts writes a weekly fishing column for The Democrat. He can be reached at fishingwitheddie@bellsouth.net.