By Doug Leier
What’s the key to a memorable fishing, camping or boating trip? Before you finish your thought, I’d like to suggest that safety should top the list. Period. No discussion. If it isn’t, let’s make it.
My argument is if you don’t have a safe fishing, boating or outdoor outing, it doesn’t matter how many hours you spend on the pontoon enjoying the sun or if you bring home a limit of eater-sized walleye to fry up.
I grew up in an era when safety didn’t seem like it was the priority it should have been. Maybe it was and I don’t remember, but I think we can agree safety has grown to be more of the typical choice rather than an afterthought.
I’m not saying it was right, but many readers will remember as a kid taking a nap on the floor of dad’s pickup or even sleeping above the rear windshield in the car. Bike helmets? That’s another story.
It was a different world before recommendations for seatbelt use were turning into laws, and people were trying to adjust to the process of having to click it before driving off. And who would argue about that? It’s impossible to plan the best time to wear or not wear a safety belt, so it just makes sense to wear one all the time.
It was just as wrong with life jackets. They were mostly big, orange, hot and uncomfortable.
We’d hold it, sit on one or have them out, but few people wore them unless in rough water. Which really was about like saying I’ll put the rifle on safety after I misfire? It’s just not logical. The premise for wearing a personal flotation device while in a boat isn’t much different. While regulations don’t require mandatory wearing of PFDs for anyone age 11 or older on North Dakota waters, if an accident does happen, it’s usually too late for the PFD to do any good.
It certainly isn’t surprising that national statistics show failure to wear a PFD is the main reason people lose their lives in water recreation accidents. North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device at all times while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. State law also requires an approved PFD on board for older passengers.
All personal watercraft users must wear a life jacket, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices. Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger than zippers upon impact with water. Anglers or anyone paddling a canoe should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for an entire outing.
When a person is towed on water skis or a similar device, an observer other than the operator is required on the vessel unless the vessel is equipped with a mirror at least 78 square inches (198.12 square centimeters) which provides the operator an unobstructed field of vision to the rear.
For a reminder on regulations that will help ensure safe boating this summer, the North Dakota Boat and Water Safety Guide is available online at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov.
Leier is an Outreach Biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.
Featured Photo: The Memorial Day Weekend is a busy time on the water and serves as a good reminder for all watercraft users to wear their life jackets. NDG&F Photo.