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Saturday marks the first day of National Safe Boating Week.

Each year, it serves as the unofficial kickoff of the boating season.

Even more, it’s a healthy reminder that the water must be respected.

I learned the lesson in the remote channels of the Alaskan Inside Passage. One minute the water was calm. The next, we were scrambling for our life jackets as hurricane-force winds stirred vicious seas.

Headed out that morning, we never would have guessed what we were in for. If we weren’t paying attention or weren’t prepared, it could have turned grave. Thankfully, despite the morning’s blue skies, we were prepared for rough weather. We always were.

There's 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 a disaster in mere seconds.

From now through the start of Memorial Day weekend, boating-related agencies throughout the country will work overtime to remind boaters to be smart. Safe Boating Week is a coordinated effort to make sure boaters are educated on everything they need to know to keep out of trouble on the water.

Safe boating starts in a place we could all spend some more time, the mass of pink stuff between our ears known as our brain. If you hit the water without proper knowledge, you take a gamble.

While Pennsylvania does not require every boater to pass a safety course (it depends on your age and the boat you’ll operate), the few hours it takes to get a basic education is time well spent. Even for the old salts, a quick review of the books is a good way to keep things fresh.

One thing everybody should know is life jackets save lives. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Across the country, nearly 700 people die in boating accidents last year. Nearly 80 percent of the folks killed were not wearing life jackets. In Pennsylvania, four boaters died last year from boating accidents (a significant reduction from the average). Three of them were not wearing life jackets.

The math doesn’t lie. It’s obvious. Before you hit the water, put on a life jacket.

Just like wearing a life jacket should be common sense, so should the idea that alcohol and boats do not mix. We all know the dangers of driving a car under the influence. But few folks realize alcohol’s effects are even more drastic on the water. Sun, waves, and inexperience make boating under the influence a deadly proposition.

And don’t forget, the law on the water is no different than your car. If you have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, you’re over the limit and you can (and should) go to jail.

The bottom line is boating is not all fun and games. A day on the water can turn deadly. You never know when trouble will strike on the water. If you are not prepared, don’t have the proper equipment or are too drunk to think straight, the odds are stacked against you.

It is not hard to stay safe and enjoy a day on the water. All it takes is knowledge and some planning. Give water the respect it deserves.

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

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