MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With 8,000 miles of river, 3,000 miles of coastline and a little less than half a million acres of lakes in South Carolina, you can bet there's going to be a lot of boaters out this Fourth of July weekend. There's some things you should be reminded of to get the most out of your weekend without having a run-in with the law.
The biggest piece of advice from The Department of Natural Resources is if you have plans to take your boat out this weekend, check your boat to make sure you have up-to-date life jackets, registration and fire extinguishers. Law enforcement will be out on the water in full force to make sure everyone is up to code.
Some things that seem obvious for boating safety are usually what people get cited for not doing. Joel Chanaca is a 10-year veteran of SCDNR. He says people are cited for missing a life-saving device in about 3 out of every 10 inspections. That includes the up-to-date Coast Guard-approved life jackets, fire extinguisher, navigation lights, flares, and a bell or whistle.
WMBF News reporter Meredith Helline inspected a boat with Chanaca on Tuesday. The boater unknowingly had an empty fire extinguisher.
Chanaca said it's not hard to forget, so this weekend, remember to check before you head out, knowing where those items could save a life.
"One of the things people do is the pack it away and they don't know what compartment it's in. So if somebody fell over the side of the boat and they had an emergency...and they need to know where the throw cushion is, that's something they need to familiarize themselves with before they go out each season," Chanaca said.
When it comes to your life jacket, DNR says to make sure it's snug. A loose life jacket might be more comfortable, but if you fall in the water, a loose life jacket won't work properly and you could drown. Life jackets need to be in 'serviceable' condition. This means no buckle breaks or tears, or you could face a fine. Any child under 12 is required to wear a life jacket on boats and personal water crafts, PWCs, like a jet ski. Everyone is required to wear a life jacket when operating a PWC.
Many boating fatalities happen when someone is not wearing a life jacket, or alcohol is involved.
DNR says last year there were 131 boat accidents and 19 boating deaths just in South Carolina. Many of those were alcohol-related. This weekend, boaters have even more to look out for besides drinking: swimmers, jet skis, other boats and inexperienced drivers.
Chanaca spoke about the experience of drivers involved in past boating accidents. "A lot of the boat accidents, you know, constantly it's like informal [boat] training or no training. I generally don't have a lot of them that have boater safety course or Coast Guard training where they actually know the laws," he said.
Chanaca said almost all boating accidents involve an inexperienced driver with little to no training. They don't know to keep at least 50 feet away from swimmers and other boats, and may forget a felony boating under the influence charge, BUI, is a .08 blood alcohol level or higher.
DNR officers will investigate even if you're on an anchored boat because they know you'll have to leave at some point, but can't make an arrest unless the boat is moving.
Chanaca said it's best to always have a sober driver. Sobriety will influence better decisions when it comes to other boating rules like no wake areas for swimmer and anchored boat safety.
"It's just common courtesy. You know if you've been on a boat and you're trying to interact with another boat and somebody comes by with this huge wake and then beats your boats together and then people are losing their balance on the boat, you wouldn't like it. Don't do it to other people too," Chanaca said.
If you want to take action to make sure you're up to par when it comes to safety standards and boating in accordance to the law, DNR is hosting free boat inspections this week.
They're looking for the proper boating equipment like serviceable Coast Guard-approved life jackets and up-to-date registration. The point of this inspection isn't to get you in trouble; if you're missing something you won't be ticketed. Instead, you're given the opportunity to fix what you're missing before hitting the water. Inspection officers are also there to answer any questions you have and give boating safety tips to you.
DNR is hosting the courtesy inspections throughout the state July 2, 3 and 4. That's this Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Two will be in Horry County on Saturday and Sunday only. DNR will be at Johnny Causey Boat Landing in Little River on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The Conway inspection will be Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Conway Marina Landing at the Waccamaw River.
If you need help along the water, you can call the toll-free, 24/7 DNR hotline at 1-800-922-5431.
For more information and details on rules, regulations and more safety tips click here to go to DNR's website.