Coast Guard & Marine Patrol: boaters need to keep up with weather

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - This Memorial Day weekend the U.S. Coast Guard is giving a bit of advice for people who want to spend the holiday on water: use safe boating practices and stay aware of the changing weather and sea conditions.

In less than a week, officials say two boats have capsized off of Horn Island after setting sail under a 'Small Craft Advisory.' Severe weather kept Jeffrey Powell's commercial fishing boat docked at the Biloxi Harbor on Saturday. After losing friends in boating accidents, Powell says he can't understand why some people don't take marine warnings seriously.

"Squalls come up. Weather comes up quick," said Powell. "When you try to come back in then you've got your wife and family on a boat. People can say their boat won't sink, or it's impossible to sink. It will fill up with water. If it fills up with water and your engine shuts down, nobody is having fun."

On Monday(5/18/09), rescuers pulled four people from the water after their boat capsized off Horn Island the day before. A fifth person is still missing. The Coast Guard says a second boat capsized off Horn Island on Thursday. Everyone on that boat made it safely to the island. In both cases, Small Craft Advisories had been issued.

Rusty Pittman is an assistant chief with the Department of Marine Resources.

"You always want to look at the weather, the weather situation before you go. If you turn on the weather radio and if there is a small craft advisory or a small craft warning, you need to stay in port."

Marine patrol officers say once a boat capsizes there are things people can do to better the chances of being rescued.

"If your boat capsizes, the first thing you should always do is stay with your boat," said Pittman. "It's easier to spot a boat from a helicopter or from other boats searching the area. If you go away from your boat, it's hard to spot a person floating."

Jeffrey Powell says he's learned in more than 20 years of boating that a short sail is not worth losing a life.

"I learned to respect the water. Respect the weather, and don't mess around with it," said Powell.

On Sunday, the Coast Guard also rescued nine people near Horn Island from a boat that later sank.

A charter boat captain told us many inexperienced boaters don't think to check the weather before heading out. He said a warning flag system could help with that.

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