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Commentary: Safety First This Memorial Day Weekend

As everyone prepares for a fun holiday weekend on their local waterways and beyond, I’d like to take a few hundred words or so to discuss safety—with help from the dedicated staff at the Water Sports Foundation, the non-profit educational arm of the Water Sports Industry Association in Orlando, Fla.—and the reasons you need to be a little more attentive on the water throughout the next few days.

With more new boaters on the water because of a surge in boat sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more crucial than ever to practice defensive driving this holiday weekend. Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

There are the essentials, of course, including designating a sober driver, paying attention to weather, wearing lifejackets and using an engine cut-off switch. But the one all of you veteran Memorial Day weekend boaters need to be especially aware of this year is the fact that many of the boats you’re going to encounter over the next few days are being driven by first-time Memorial Day boaters, many of whom likely do not have much, if any, boating safety education.

With new and used boat sales soaring to record highs in 2020 to first-time boat buyers, boating safety stakeholders are taking extra measures to communicate and promote safe boating messages during National Safe Boating Week (May 22-28) and beyond. According to Jack Ellis, managing partner of Info-Link Technologies, approximately 350,000 people purchased their first powerboat or auxiliary-powered sailboat, while another 65,000 bought their first PWC, having never owned a boat.

“The pandemic literally saw hundreds of thousands of newcomers join the ranks of first-time boat owners, so we’re taking extra precautions to proactively share safe boating strategies,” said Jim Emmons, executive director Water Sports Foundation. “We’ve identified a dozen top tips for keeping boaters safe that we believe can positively impact boater safety while maximizing enjoyment on the nation’s waterways over this holiday season, and beyond.”

You can check out the 12 tips in the WSF press release here and dig even deeper into boating safety via the organization’s website for more tips and advice. If you want to know the latest safety regulations or navigation rules, need to access the weather report from the nearest NOAA buoys, or get general boating safety information, I’d also recommend downloading the U.S. Coast Guard boating safety mobile app available for free on iOS and Android devices.

Without trying to preach, now is as good a time as ever to go through your boat and your pre-departure checklist, review navigational rules and state boating laws, and prepare yourself for dealing with less-competent boaters. I’ll leave you with two words—defensive driving. Let’s all practice that common-sense approach to boating and we’re sure to have one of the safest holiday boating seasons on record.

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