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Official warns of boating safety

Boats line the docks at Pickwick Landing State Park Marina, one of several marinas on Pickwick Lake. With the summer season in full swing on area lakes, officials are stressing boating safety.

Staff photo by Mark Boehler

By Jebb Johnston


With the pleasant waters of Pickwick Lake beckoning in the summer-like weather, officials are reminding boaters to be safe.

The most public recreation fatalities occur during the warm months, but some simple steps can help prevent summertime fun from turning to tragedy.

"The biggest cause that we see on the lake in boating accidents is alcohol," said Lt. Ricky Barry, boating supervisor with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks. "I would say a close second to that would be operator inexperience."

That inexperience, combined with a lack of boating education, is a problem, according to those who patrol the waters.

"Anybody in Mississippi that's going to operate a boat has to have a boater's education class if they were born after June 30, 1980," said Barry. "A lot of people born after that are not getting that class, and that is something that we do enforce."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers describes alcohol and water as "a deadly combo" because alcohol contributes to an inner ear condition that can cause a person to become disoriented underwater and not realize which way is up. It also aggravates "boater's hypnosis," a condition brought on by the effects of sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion during a day of boating. The condition inhibits reaction time almost as much as intoxication.

Barry said boaters need to remember to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejacket on hand for everyone aboard the vessel and to make sure boat registrations are current.

Officers patrolling the waters at Pickwick are keeping an eye on no-wake zones and ticketing offenders who do not slow down.

Barry said it is important to reduce speed before reaching the buoys.

"Aqua Yacht Harbor is a sanctioned no-wake zone," he said. "That is something we are enforcing. We have people that blow by the no-wake buoys. It rocks all of Aqua Yacht Harbor, and they've had a lot of extensive damage done to it."

The Corps advises lake visitors to be aware of their swimming abilities and know that swimming in natural waters like a lake, river or pond is different from swimming in a pool. Several people every year drown swimming to retrieve boats and toys, and it's best to just let them go, the Corps advises.