Boaters: Take Heed Before Hitting the Water

A thin veil of fog loomed overhead as 6-year-old Dalton Johnson ventured out into the Gulf for his first-ever fishing trip and boat ride Sunday morning.

While the entire family was eager to see the youngster pull some big fish out the murky waters of the Sound, there was one thing his father made perfectly clear before boarding the vessel--the importance of boating safety.

"We just told him to make sure he sits down, don't run around the boat. Make sure he wears his life vest. We're not going to let him run around without it," Clarence Johnson said.

Wearing a life jacket isn't just a safety precaution for youngsters, it's also the law.

"For every person on board at 12 years and younger on a boat that's under 27 feet in length, they need to be wearing a life jacket while the boat is underway," said Sgt. Paul Grote of the Department of Marine Resources.

Being prepared and being sober are two key elements when it comes to boating safety.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is to blame for one-third of all boating fatalities.

"You need to have all your facilites about you when you're operating a boat. Look out for other people, and if an accident does happen, you have to be able to think quickly and clearly to save your life and those of the people with you," Grote said.

People caught boating under the influence are subject to BUI charges which can lead to stiff fines and jail time.

As for the Johnson family, they enjoyed a safe, peaceful time out in Gulf waters Easter morning, and Dalton didn't go home empty-handed.

He caught at least one nice fish and also soaked up lessons about boating safety that may one day save his life.

DMR leaders also stress the importance of having a fire extinguisher, flares and some sort of communication device on board when out on the water.