Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the season when many people spend more time on the water. Whether you are relaxing on Ross Barnett Reservoir, the Pearl River, the Mississippi River or a smaller body of water, proper safety precautions such as remaining alert for other boats and wearing a life jacket can help prevent serious boating accidents.

Mississippi boating accidents claimed the lives of 13 people and injured 31 more in 2013, causing a total of $257,325 in damages, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Across the nation, the toll was much higher, with 560 deaths and 2,620 injuries reported and a financial toll of $39 million.

It’s important to be aware of the things that cause boating mishaps. The 10 primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents are:

  • operator inattention
  • improper lookout
  • operator inexperience
  • excessive speed
  • alcohol use
  • machinery failure
  • navigation rules violation
  • hazardous waters
  • weather
  • force of wake

Accidents Lead to Drowning

  • 77 percent of those who died in boating accidents in 2013 drowned, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • In 84 percent of deadly boating accidents, the victim wasn’t wearing a life jacket.
  • In 20 percent of fatal boating accidents, the craft was operated by a person who took boating safety instruction. Only 13 percent of boating accidents involved operators who took a course meeting U.S. Coast Guard standards.
  • Operator inattention, inexperience, speeding and machinery failure were the primary causes of boating accidents.
  • Accidents on the water claimed the lives of 22 children under 13, eight of whom drowned. Five were not wearing life jackets, although those are required by state and federal laws.
  • Alcohol use is a main contributor to fatal boating accidents and is the primary cause in 16 percent of boating-related deaths.

Boating Under the Influence

The Alcohol Boating Safety Act prohibits the operation of watercraft on Mississippi’s public waters while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance that impairs the ability to operate a boat.

Alcohol contributed to seven boating accidents that killed three people and injured five more in Mississippi in 2013, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics.

Anyone who operates a watercraft on Mississippi’s public waters automatically gives consent to testing to determine blood-alcohol content.

  • First conviction for boating under the influence (BUI) can lead to a fine of $250 to $1,000 or 24 hours in jail, or both.
  • Second conviction for BUI within a five-year period can lead to a fine of $600 to $1,000, 48 hours to a year in jail and 10 days of community service.
  • Third conviction for BUI within five years can lead to a fine of $800 to $1,000, 30 days to a year in jail and suspension from boating for two years.
  • A fourth conviction within five years is a felony offense, accompanied by a fine of $2,000 to $5,000, 90 days to five years in the state penitentiary and suspension from boating for three years.

Boater Education

To operate a boat or personal watercraft, anyone born after June 30, 1980 is required to get a boater education card from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks.

People can sign up free of charge to take the Official Boater Safety Education Course. When you go boating, make sure you have your card on the boat in case Mississippi law enforcement officers who patrol lakes and rivers ask to see it.

For safety purposes, the Mississippi Boater Safety Handbook encourages people to follow these tips before and after they hit the water:

  • Put together a float plan and give it to a friend so they’ll know where you are in case something happens. List information about the boat, your destination and names and addresses of those going.
  • Put plenty of personal flotation devices on the boat to make sure there are enough for everyone. Always wear a life jacket when on the water.
  • Prevent collisions by keeping a safe distance from other boats and going a safe speed.
  • Check the weather forecast before setting out to avoid getting caught in a storm that could cause you to have an accident.
  • Avoid unlawful and dangerous boating, including pulling water skiers too close to ramps, swimmers and boats.
  • Never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident caused by another boat operator’s disregard for safety, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Talk to an experienced Mississippi boating accident injury lawyer about your legal options.

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