Boating safety is a must for surviving the best of times on lakes, rivers and streams.

Boating safety is a must for surviving the best of times on lakes, rivers and streams.

Most boaters realize that dangers exist in boating and use common sense. Yet, even the most careful can make mistakes and not survive. Problem is, a boating accident may kill a family member or close friend, a horrible incident that would be hard to live with. The following are tips to make sure this never happens to you!

NO. 1 BOATING KILLER: A simple fall overboard is the No. 1 boating accident event that leads to the most fatalities.

While some of these accidents involved other factors, being able to quickly get back in the boat – without help – isn't easy as a Boat U.S. Foundation test of 11 portable boarding ladders recently found.

"A fall into the water can turn into a life-threatening situation very quickly," said Boat U.S. Foundation President Ruth Wood. "It doesn't take long for exhaustion or hypothermia to drain the life out of you, especially in chilly or cold water. Boaters and anglers need to be prepared, especially if you are alone. It can happen to you."

While many larger boats have built-in boarding ladders, the Foundation tested portable models on a 17-foot Boston Whaler, 14-foot john boat and a 12-foot rigid-hull inflatable. What follows are five important tips that will help ensure a fall overboard doesn't become tragic:

LADDERS: A fully clothed adult with no buoyancy would have difficulties attempting to get back aboard using any type of ladder. A portable ladder could mean the difference between life and death.

You don't need to spend lots of money for a functional boarding ladder. Research has found that an affordable model fashioned from four-inch wide yellow webbing proved best. Simplicity also ruled the day as the highest-ranked ladders all had fewer than three steps. The ideal ladder length, measured from the water's surface to the bottom rung, averaged 20 inches.

Some ladders work better with certain types of boats. Hard sides or soft? Low or high freeboard? Depending on a boat's construction or deck layout, most ladders performed well with one particular kind of vessel, and did poorly with others. It's important to match the ladder to the boat.

Before you head out, your boarding ladder needs to be positioned so it can be reached from the water. Also, attaching the ladder to the wrong spot on a narrow, lightweight boat can increase the chance of capsizing, especially if there is wave action.

This is a good call for the unexpected. Many of us have fished thousands of hours off a boat deck without falling over board. But it only takes one trip or slip to create a life or death situation. The answer is a ladder in easy reach.

Practice is a must. Many ladders were difficult to use on the first try. Take the time on a warm, sunny day to fine tune any adjustments, get in the water and use the ladder. Some ladders threw testers off-balance when weight was placed on them, causing the device to swing underneath the boat. Only practice solved this problem.

WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET: Bass boats running 60 to 80 miles an hour are deadly. Hitting any kind of structure could flip the boat and throw all passengers. Hitting the water at this speed may cause unconsciousness or serious injury. So, always wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket, no matter how well you can swim.

CHECK YOUR SPEED IN LOW VISIBILITY: You would be amazed how fast I have watched some boaters speeding in little or no visibility.

I once watched a bass boat screaming down Taneycomo Lake, a narrow stretch by Branson in heavy fog. I almost immediately heard a big crash and was soon alerting the boat dock owner to call the Missouri Water Patrol. Fortunately the idiot only ran through shallow rocks, tearing off the lower unit of an expensive motor and ripping the bottom out of his boat. No one was hurt except his billfold for a few thousand dollars.

However, another boat was screaming through heavy fog in Bull Shoals Lake a few years ago and ran through the middle of an anchored vessel. Two men were killed instantly. They would possibly still be alive if the speeding boat driver had used common sense. Visibility is a key to boat speed.

KNOW THE WATERWAY: Speeding in a boat is common, especially when pulling water skiers or moving back and forth to fishing spots.

The key is to know where your boat lanes are located and where the shallows start. Even more importantly, always have a lookout watching for bobbing heads in the water, generally people who crashed while water skiing.

I once watched a bass boat swing a corner and almost run through a swimming area full of swimmers. He managed to shut it down and change course. So know where it's safe to go full throttle before giving it the gas.

DRINK LATER: Booze and boating do not mix. Do you think that comment makes me a killjoy?

Maybe, but killing someone because of too much alcohol consumption is a bigger killjoy and a lifetime of heartaches and jail time, or another case for using common sense.

Be safe and have a great summer!

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at