LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission) – The Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer for Arkansas’s boating fraternity. It’s one of the busiest times on the water, but can be one of the most dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken.

“Thousands of people hit the water for a day in the sun, but many do so without fully preparing for the trip,” Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating law administrator, said. “The most important piece of safety equipment is a life jacket. More specifically, there should be a properly fitting life jacket for everyone on board. By law, all children 12 and under must have their life jacket on and secured any time they are on the boat, but everyone should wear them any time a boat is underway.”

Life jackets aren’t the only items a boater needs to check for while preparing for a day on the water. A quick glance to make sure your boat has a fire extinguisher if it has enclosed fuel tanks and some method to signal for help also are worth their weight in gold should you encounter trouble on the water. Additionally, anyone out after dark should make sure that their boat is equipped with a proper light source.

“Prior to going out on the water, boaters need to check their navigation lights to make sure they work,” she said. “People are out at night and do not think about needing lights until it is dark. Always take a spotlight or flashlight, just in case.”

Enforcement patrol on lake

On some smaller AGFC lakes, a full set of navigation lights isn’t required, but for all of the federally controlled waters and big lakes where people typically spend a day cruising around on the boat, it’s required by law.

“Even where it’s not specifically required by law, it just makes good sense to make sure people can see your boat at night,” Weatherington.

Weatherington also stresses the importance of having a designated driver on the boat at all times and to practice moderation with any alcoholic beverages on board.

“Alcohol has a greater effect on you when combined with the sun and waves,” Weatherington said. “So you really need to pay attention to your limits and stay well clear of them. Being caught boating under the influence carries the same penalties as driving a car under the influence, including the loss of your drivers license.”

Boater education is mandatory for anyone born on or after January 1, 1986 who is operating a motorboat or personal watercraft. To operate a motorboat with an engine of 10 horsepower or more, the person must be 12 years old or older, if younger than 12 they must be under the direct supervision of a person at least 18 years old. To operate a personal watercraft, a person must be 16 years old or older.Those 12 to 15 years of age must be under the direct supervision of someone at least 18 years old; those under 12 must be under the direct supervision of someone at least 21 years old. Visit www.agfc.com/boatered for more information.