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Safe Boating Means Summer Water Fun
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's miles of waterways make boating one of the more popular summer pastimes, but without caution, boating can be dangerous.
In 1997, 20 people died in boating accidents. According to figures released by Elizabeth Raymond, boating law administrator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the state had 122 boating accidents last year. Of these, 52 involved personal water craft.
"Last year we lost more people who stood up in their boat and fell overboard," Raymond said. "The year before that, we lost more people to collisions between boats or fixed objects."
Mississippi has 253,000 boats registered, with about 10,000 added each year, Raymond said. The majority registered each year are personal water craft.
To improve safety on the water, Mississippi required education and certification last year of all boat operators born after June 30, 1980. The card must be carried on board.
"A lot of states don't require this certification, but I think we have done a lot to make boating in Mississippi safer," Raymond said.
Even with the card, youth can't operate a motor boat without an adult on board.
Currently, 11,783 youth are certified boat operators, Raymond said. Last year 8,391 received certification, and more than that are expected to be certified this year.
Walter Walker, Jackson County agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said this education and certification was long overdue.
"Anytime you have the number of boats on the water that we have down here, it's extremely important that young people be educated and certified," Walker said.
Before mandatory certification, Walker taught several boating education classes in the county. Topics covered included rules on the water, recommended and legally-required equipment the boat must carry, handling water emergencies and personal flotation devices.
Mississippi law requires everyone 12 years old and under to wear an approved personal flotation device when above deck on a moving boat that is less than 26 feet long. All boats must have a wearable personal flotation device for everyone on board and those 16 feet and larger also must have one that can be thrown.
In 1997, boating under the influence laws became stricter and set the legally intoxicated level for operating a boat at .10 percent. BUI violations lead to arrest.
"The person operating the boat should not be drinking," Walker said. "This is an issue that has hit home with some of the accidents here on the Coast. Speed and alcohol are the two biggest problems we see here on the waters."
Starting July 1, titling of boats and outboard motors will be available to Mississippians with registered boats. Boat or motor titles cost $10 each and declares true ownership of the item. Titles are not required by law, but are popular with lending institutions.
"The advantage of titling is you form a paper trail with that boat and protect it in case it's stolen," Raymond said.