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""The simple act of wearing a flotation device can save a life. According to a 2013 U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recreational boating report, in fatal boating accidents where the victims drowned, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. First-time boaters should learn safe practices to help ensure that their passengers have an enjoyable time out on the water.

The Massachusetts Environmental Police is responsible for investigating all recreational vehicle and vessel accidents that result in fatalities, severe injuries, and substantial property damage. In addition, the office enforces boating regulations and laws throughout the Commonwealth.

Take a Boating Safety Course

The Boat and Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau, a division of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, offers a nationally and state-approved boating safety course at no cost throughout the year. Several independent organizations also offer state-approved boating courses.

The course focuses on the operating rules and equipment necessary to boat safely and responsibly. Courses are usually broken up into five to six two-hour-long classes. Boat owners may also save money on their boat insurance by completing the safety course.

Graduates of the course ages 12 through 17 are issued a safety certificate, which enables them to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Adult boaters are not required to obtain a safety certificate, but the course is strongly recommended as a refresher or for those new to boating.

Always Wear a Life Jacket

The USCG reported that the cause of death for more than three-quarters of all boating fatalities in 2013 was drowning. These deaths could have been prevented by donning a life jacket — also known as a personal flotation device (PFD) — before heading out onto the water. Boaters must have enough life jackets on hand to accommodate every passenger aboard their vessel — even pets. When choosing the right life jacket, remember:

  • Select a life jacket that fits properly.
  • Ensure the jacket is correctly buckled or zipped.
  • Review the manufacturer’s ratings for the wearer’s size and weight.
  • Be certain the life jacket is USCG approved.
  • Check to make sure the life jacket is in good condition, with no holes or tears.
  • Purchase an appropriately sized jacket for everyone.
    • Jackets meant for adults will not work for children.

Massachusetts boating law requires that USCG-approved PFDs are worn by:

  • All children under 12 years of age.
  • Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC).
  • Each person waterskiing or being towed in any manner.
  • Each person on board a canoe or kayak from Sept. 15 through May 15.

All stand-up paddleboard users are required to have at least one USCG-approved PFD aboard.

Before heading out for a relaxing day on the lake or ocean, remember to boat smart from the start. Read the Boat Massachusetts Handbook and enroll in a safety course to learn the basics of boating. In an emergency, the knowledge learned in class could help save a life. Most importantly, always wear a life jacket and provide them for passengers.

What boating safety tips do you have for first-timers? Share in the comments below or tweet us @MassGov.

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