Safety concerns stressed during summer boating season

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Updated: 5/27/2013 11:13 pm
LEE COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- In 2011, 57 people died from drowning incidents in Mississippi, according to the state's department of health.

Nearly 20 percent of those were teenagers.

For law enforcement, that number is far too high.

"When you're out here running 50 miles an hour and you turn that steering wheel with somebody standing up, overboard they go," conservation officer Jerry Roberts said. "The first thing that's gonna hit them is the prop when it comes around on them."

Roberts and other officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks enforce the laws on the Magnolia State's lakes.

The most essential, he says: life jackets, mandatory for some, but recommended for everybody.

"Anybody 12 and under has to have it on at all times when the boat's underway," Roberts said.

Lakes usually have the perception of being less dangerous than rivers, but Nettleton resident Alex Stratton would disagree. And that's why he wears his life jacket.

"The current -- even though it's not the same as an ocean -- is really bad. If you got too close, a watercraft got too close to you, and he was going fast and out of control, it would sweep you," Stratton said. "It's really dangerous here."

"When you go through somebody's wake, you don't want to follow too close behind them, and you always want to be respectful of people who are fishing and things like that," Nettleton resident Rusty Self said. "Try not to get too close to them, because they're out here to have a good day, too."

These responsibilities weigh heaviest on the driver, or captain, of the boat, because he or she is expected to enforce them.

That goes for alcohol use, too, while on the water.

However, the rules for alcohol consumption differ depending on where you're boating. For example, state-owned lakes in Mississippi do not allow alcohol consumption while you're on the lake, but others that are federally controlled might have different regulations.

"You need to know what you're supposed to have onboard before you even leave the bank," Roberts said. "You know, that's what you're supposed to realize."

When asked if he had any tips others can follow while enjoying area lakes, Self answered rather quickly.

"Always wear sunscreen," he said.

Roberts said that's a good point, because dehydration and other medical problems can be hazardous if someone's stuck far from shore.

He said having plenty of liquids onboard is essential for anyone on those hot summer days.

Roberts adds to also have a cell phone on the boat in case of emergencies.

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