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Requirements for Boaters Before Hitting the Water

Life vest, life jacket
Stillwater Cove

Approximately 500 people drown each year in the U.S. from recreational boating accidents and a majority are not wearing life jackets.

That’s according to Sergeant Jason M. Pace, Public Information and Education officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. As more people get out onto the water this summer across the Ozarks, Pace says life jackets can not only help prevent a drowning, but are required in certain situations.

“Missouri law requires all children under the age of seven years of age to wear an approved life jacket at all times while on board a vessel,” Pace said.

All life jackets need to be U.S. Coast Guard approved, which is indicated by a patch on the vest. According to Pace, people should take into account chest size and body weight when deciding on a personal flotation device.

He also said the vests need to be readily available and there needs to be at least one for each person on board.

“That’s a common problem we see, that it is not readily accessible,” Pace said. “They may have life jackets stowed away under a seat or compartment, but if there is an incident that occurs it is not going to do much good for them.”

He said that a lot of times the weather, time and other elements may play a factor in life jacket durability. It is important to check straps, buckles and buoyancy of a life jacket if it has not been used in a while.

As for operating a boat, any individual born after January 1, 1984 is required to carry a boater education card while operating a water vessel. One must be at least 14 years old to acquire a card unless accompanied by a person 16 years or older.

It is called a card because, unlike a license, it doesn’t need to be renewed. A boater education card can be obtained by taking a test online.

According to Pace, simply having the boater education card is not the end of the line when it comes to education and precaution on the water.

“Don’t assume that every boater is experienced or familiar with their location,” he said. “Assign passengers to watch for other boaters or swimmers out there on the water. So that way, the driver can focus on the water and the passengers can watch for anyone tubing or skiing.”

He added that drivers should always allow extra room in congested waterways, especially around holidays. And, if pulling a tuber of skier behind the boat, a flag does not need to be up. But once the boat has stopped, or the individual being towed has fallen off, an orange of red flag needs to be visible.

Pace said it is also important to learn common boater distress signals in case of an emergency.

“One of the requirements, too, is to have a horn on board,” he said. “That way if you need assistance, you can use it.”

If the horn or distress signals do not prompt assistance, Pace says individuals can always dial *55 on their cell phones and they will be directed to the nearest highway patrol headquarters.