Safety tips before you hit the water this Memorial Day weekend

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — It’s safe to say snow is officially behind us in Central New York, and with temperatures expected to approach 80 this weekend, there couldn’t be a better time for National Safe Boating Week.

Before you head out on the water for the first time in 2020, there are many safety measures you should be taking, including a test run with all of your equipment.

“In boating, we call it a shakedown cruise,” Jennifer Watson, Ithaca Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs Officer, said. “Before you go for that first run, you make sure you got all of your equipment operating, and that you are also ready.”

Perhaps the most important piece of equipment for boaters, sailors and paddlers is that life jacket.

Watson said, “Right now, in our area, the waters are very cold. The temperatures, we were on the water for our shakedown cruise just last week, and the water temperature was 52 degrees. So, it’s shocking, and the body can’t survive in cold water like that. The number one thing you need is a life jacket.”

In just ten minutes, you can lose the strength and control of your extremities in cold water. Not even the greatest swimmers in the world can overcome the effects cold water has on the body, and a life jacket could be your only way of survival.

“77 percent of the people who drowned, actually consider themselves strong swimmers,” Watson said. “No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, the effects of cold water will immediately diminish your ability to rescue yourself.”

If you own a watercraft, make sure to have extra life jackets for passengers who may not own one. However, this Memorial Day weekend you shouldn’t have too many guests on your boat.

“New York State recommendations are to boat with your immediate family. If you can’t maintain a distance of six feet, wear a mask, and basically be courteous to each other. Give each other that space that you need,” Watson said.

New York State is also asking boaters to not connect with others and raft up with other boats at this time.

This year, many waterways like Cayuga Lake have a higher water level than normal, making it more important for boaters to be aware when out on the water. 

Watson said, “We saw quite a bit of debris floating in the water, and what happens is it’s under the surface. What you’re not seeing is what creates a hazard. If something is sticking up or if a bird is on a stick, there’s your sign that something’s there. Not seeing those debris is a real hazard. So, we really encourage people to slow down and have a spotter on board.” 

In order to be alert, you can’t have any alcohol or drugs in your system, and just like drinking and driving, drinking and boating is also illegal. 

“If you’re boating, you are susceptible to the weather. The sun, dehydration, and you will feel the effects of intoxication much faster than you would on land,” Watson said. “Yes, boating under the influence is against the law, and it’s something that, just wait until you get back to the dock to celebrate a good cruise.”

However, you may need to take a safety course before hitting the water this year.

Last August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Brianna’s Law into effect. This law requires all motorized boat operators to take a safety course before 2025. However, if you were born in 1993 or later you must complete the safety course before hitting the water this year.

Below is more information on Brianna’s law:

  • Born in 1993 or later: Must take safety course before boating in 2020
  • Born in 1988 or later: Must take safety course before boating in 2022
  • Born in 1983 or later: Must take safety course before boating in 2023
  • Born in 1978 or later: Must take safety course before boating in 2024
  • Born before 1978: Must take safety course before boating in 2025

For more safety tips on boating, check out these apps from the United States Coast Guard.

Before hitting the waters, you can check the weather on some local lakes here.

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