Memorial Day boater safety tips for Michiganders planning to get out on the water

Posted at 3:38 PM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-28 07:50:12-04

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — As we enter the unofficial start of summer this Memorial Day weekend, millions of Michiganders will be out enjoying Michigan’s beautiful lakes and waterways, but this year will be different on Lake St. Clair, the biggest lake in metro Detroit, with water levels down two feet from last year.

Come along on a boat ride with us near Lake St. Clair Metropark

Lifejackets, also called flotation devices, are an extremely important tool you can use to stay safe while on the water. In order for your flotation device to be effective, it must be worn at all times, fit properly, be readily accessible and in good condition. Even experienced boaters are going to make mistakes, says Lt. Gary Wiegand, who leads the marine division for the Macomb County Sheriff's Deparytment. “Just having the right amount of life jackets on board your boat or the cell phone has gone dead no marine radio, no way to call for help.”

Michigan law requires each boat to have one lifejacket for each passenger, but not all are created equally. The best options are U.S. Coast Guard-approved type-two and type-three personal floation devices because they are guaranteed to keep your head out of the water, even if you lose consciousness.

Children under the age of six are required by law to wear a type-one or type-two U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device while riding in a boat.

Choosing the wrong flotation device, Weigand says, can be a matter of life or death.

Lt. Gary Wiegand of the Macomb County Sheriff Marine Division on boater safety

“The pillow located in the back, this piece of flotation is guaranteed to keep a young child’s head out of the water if he or she were to fall in,” Lt. Weigand said about the importance of having the proper flotation device for all passengers.

Another important safety feature lifejackets must have, Weigand says, ”The grab strap. If a child were to fall in water it gives you the option to grab ahold of the child and pull them out. It’s also very important to have the strap in place between the child’s legs because it prevents them from slipping through the lifejacket and back into the water."

Boater breathalyzer test process

Over the past two years, the Macomb County Sheriff Department’s Marine Division has responded to 153 search and rescues, two search and recoveries involving fatal boating accidents, over 81 accidents and six boat fires. Bodycam videos from the department show how they perform rescues, put out dangerous boat fires, and arrest drunk and sometimes belligerent boaters.

Bodycam video shows a boater suspected of being drunk on board one of the marine division’s 12 boats going through sobriety tests. Boat passengers can drink and have open containers of alcohol but drivers and captains can not. The legal limit is .08, the same as on the road. Reckless driving and drunk driving cases is where these deputies will take action. Simple infractions could also be a ticket but most often are not.

Lt. Wiegand says, “I don't stress any kind of ticket writing to them. But I do like to have them interacting with the public. You talk to somebody, you educate them.”

Beginning this weekend, the Macomb County Sheriff Department’s Marine Division will have four full-time deputies, two command officers, and over 70 marine safety officers out patrolling the water. So, keep your head on a swivel, make sure your passengers are safe, and have a great holiday weekend and a nice long summer ahead!

Here’s a list of additional safety tips:

Limit alcohol consumption
On a hot, summer day your body becomes dehydrated much faster and the effects of two, three or four beers are greatly exaggerated.

Ring or type-four throwable flotation device with a floatable rescue line attached
“If someone were to fall overboard or you are rendering aid to another person out on the lake. You can throw it out and they can grab ahold of it and you have the option to pull them back to safety.”

Charged cellphone
Calling 911 will notify the dispatcher of your latitude and longitude. These coordinates will be sent directly to law enforcement patrol boats to identify your exact location in order to help get you to safety.

Marine UHF radio
Channel 16 is the U.S. Coast Guard distress channel. Radioing this channel will notify the U.S. Coast Guard, law enforcement and other boaters that you need help.

Working fire extinguisher that is in good condition
Boats contain a lot of flammable materials. If your boat has an enclosed compartment where gas is located, you must, by law, have a fire extinguisher on the onboard. This includes, all personal watercrafts.

Sound-producing device
Bell, whistle, horn, or something that can be used to signal for help in the event of an emergency.