I've spent hundreds of days on Alaska's waters, but it was my last time on the state's famed Inside Passage that I remember the most.

It was supposed to be a quick, simple trip. But in the end, the Coast Guard and a 350-foot ferry were involved.

It was our fault. We didn't plan ahead. Our goal was to head just a mile out the bay to unload our crab traps. The weather was nice and showed no sign of changing within the next hour.

But when my father-in-law offered to take us across the bay to his favorite whale-watching grounds, it was tough to refuse. It was also hard to stay warm when the motor died and the wind and rain pelted us in the open skiff for the next four hours.

There is no doubt a trip to the lake or bay makes for a great day. But without proper planning or the right equipment, it can turn into an utter disaster in mere seconds.

Saturday marks the start of the National Safe Boating Week. From now through the start of Memorial Day weekend, boaters will be bombarded with safety messages. It's the perfect reminder to prepare for the season ahead.

Safe boating starts long before you head to the lake. If you hit the water without proper knowledge and preparation, you are taking a gamble.

While Pennsylvania does not require all boaters to pass a safety course, the few hours it takes to get a basic boating education is time well spent. Even for the old salts, a quick review of the books is a good way to keep things fresh.


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One thing everybody should know is life jackets save lives. Nearly 80 percent of all boating fatalities involve victims who were not wearing life jackets. The math doesn't lie. Put a life jacket on before you hit the water, even if the law doesn't require it.

Just like wearing a life jacket should be common sense, so should the idea that alcohol and boats do not mix. Not only is it illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol, it's dangerous. But it's not just the driver who should stay sober. A day on the water can be equally as dangerous with a boatload of tipsy friends.

As an example I point to a quick-moving storm that hit boaters on the Susquehanna River last August. One minute, it was a beautiful summer day. The next, it was flat-out dangerous to be anywhere near the water.

People scrambled to get their boats and passengers off the water. It took the help of everybody onboard to do it. It was not the time to be babysitting a boatload of drunk passengers.

On the water, you never know when trouble will strike. Even a simple trip to the lake can be deadly for the unprepared.

It is not hard to stay safe and enjoy a day on the water. All it takes is knowledge and some planning. The water must be respected.

— Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.