In the wake of tragedy, boating safety becomes more important

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County sheriff Mike Byrd has some sound advice.  "Boating can be very fun, but it can also be very dangerous if you don't know what you're doing."

Part of that knowing is having the right equipment, such as flares, horns, life jackets, and communication devices.

You also need something else that your future depends on, according to the sheriff.

"They need to have a float plan. They need to let people know where they are going, how long they're going to be gone, and if they don't come back, somebody will know, 'Hey, they're overdue and they can contact us,'" Byrd said.

When trouble happens, there's a plan for that, too. John Gaffney is a dive shop owner and makes a living making sure people enjoy the water and stay safe while doing so.

"If you can affect the rescue without entering the water, that's the biggest thing. A life ring that you can throw to them with a rope on it, a long pole, something that you can reach out to them," Gaffney explained.  "If possible you can improvise, you can use a life jacket to throw to them, something to cause them to have flotation."

While there are many things you can do to make sure your family and your friends stay safe on a boating trip and come back to enjoy another day, perhaps the most important thing is to take a look up in the sky and see what Mother Nature has to offer.

Jean Couture is a boater who does just that.

"That is a mandatory to keep up with the weather. I keep my phone on me at all times and it's got the navigational, weather, everything. So it's a good deal to keep up with the weather. It can change on you in a matter of minutes, so you never know when it's going to hit you," Couture said.

When buying a boat, making sure you have the right size and type of vessel for the water conditions is just as important. Keith King is a boat dealer.

"So we try and work with them to understand what they desires are and try and help them decide which is the right boat to meet those needs," King said.

Perhaps the most important safety tip is training, especially for first time boat owners. If you're interested in taking a boating safety course, several are offered each year by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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