The Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kick-off to summer. That means more people are going to be heading out to area lakes for a variety of water activities.

The Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kick-off to summer. That means more people are going to be heading out to area lakes for a variety of water activities.

Local groups such as the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the National Safe Boating Council are trying to get the word out about how to stay safe on the water this summer.

“We want people thinking about safety and to be prepared before they go out,” said Sgt. Jerry Callahan, with the Marine Operations Division of the Highway Patrol. “We want people to be safe.”

The following is a list of Top 5 things to do to be prepared on the water.

5. Proper boat maintenance. Before putting the boat on the water, make sure that everything, including the equipment, is in good working order. Make sure that there is a fire extinguisher on board that is full and has good pressure and check batteries in flashlights to make sure they are operational.

4. Take a boating safety class. Since 2005, every person born after Jan. 1, 1984, who operates a “vessel on the lakes” is required to have a boating safety identification card issued by the Water Patrol Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol offers several boating safety classes, including one in Independence June 9.
 
3. Prepare a float plan. Before going out onto the water, prepare a plan for where the boat will be traveling. Callahan said to tell someone on the shore where the boat will be going, how long the trip will be and who will be going.

2. Pay attention. Callahan said most accidents can be attributed to one of five things – operator inattentiveness, operator inexperience, excessive speed, alcohol or inappropriate behavior.

“People just need to think before they go out,” he said. “National Boating Safety Week (which ended Friday) serves as a reminder of how we are supposed to act on the water. We want them to think about the equipment the need and what they need to do before they leave the dock.”

1. Where a life jacket. Callahan said the most important thing to remember is to wear a life jacket. He said there should be one jacket per person on the boat, and all children under age 7 must wear a jacket at all times. Boats 16 feet or longer need to have a throwable flotation device such as a seat cushion.

“Eighty eight percent of drowning victims have no life jacket. Even if you are knocked unconscious, a life jacket will keep you afloat,” Callahan said. “Some will even keep your head above water so that you can breath. But at the very least you will be floating so someone can assist you. It can make a huge difference in boating accidents.”