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Seven Tips for Safe Boating in Michigan

Michigan residents eagerly await summer every year, and boating on the Great Lakes or the state's many smaller lakes is one of the great pleasures of the season. Every year, however, some Michigan residents suffer injury or death as a result of a boating accident. Many, if not most, of these accidents are avoidable.

The United States Coast Guard reports that in 2013, over five hundred people died in boating accidents, and over two thousand were injured. While some accidents were caused by mechanical failures, the majority were caused by factors within the boat operator's control. Far and away the leading cause of accidents was operator inattention. Of the other known accident causes relating to operation of the vessel, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and alcohol use were also top causes.  The National Safe Boating Council estimates that seventy percent of  recreational boating accidents are caused by operator factors.

Summer fun can turn into tragedy in the blink of an eye. Here are seven tips to keep your Michigan boating season safe and happy, filled with only good memories: 

  • Make sure your boat is shipshape. The United States Coast Guard offers a free vessel safety check for boat owners. In addition to being free of charge, the check usually takes a half-hour or less and can alert you to potential problems before you hit the water.
  • Take a safe boating course. Many courses are available at low or no cost, but any investment of time or money in a safe boating course can pay dramatic dividends in avoiding accidents and injuries. 
  • Wear a life jacket, and make sure passengers do, too. Around 90% of boating accident victims who drown were not wearing a life-jacket. Unlike the bulky orange vests of years past, modern vests are lighter and fit more comfortably, and are available in a variety of sizes. But all boaters have to be wearing them at all times on the water--there's usually no time to put one one in an emergency. 
  • Know the rules of the water. You wouldn't drive a car without learning the rules of the road. Learning the rules of navigable waterways is just as essential. In particular, know and observe speed limits. If you allow anyone else to operate your boat, make sure they understand the rules as well.
  • Don't drink and boat. For the same reasons that  you wouldn't drink and drive, don't drink and operate a boat. There may not be any lines to stay between on the water, but boating, like driving, still demands alertness and quick reaction time. People understand they shouldn't drink and drive, but many people consider boating and drinking to go together. This is a dangerous assumption: a boat operator with a blood alcohol level of .08 is roughly ten times more likely to die in a boating accident than one with a zero BAC. 
  • Observe occupancy limits. Every recreational boat carries a capacity plate, usually near the steering column. This plate states the maximum number of passengers for the boat, and the maximum weight capacity for the boat. Although weight capacity is important as well, making sure you carry no more than the maximum number of passengers ensures all passengers will have safe seating. 
  • Understand carbon monoxide dangers. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas that can kill in minutes. Poor equipment maintenance or improper ventilation can lead to CO poisoning in the cabin. Carbon monoxide can also accumulate on the boat's swim platform. Have CO detectors on the boat, and be aware of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and eye irritation.

Attorney Marc Shefman is experienced in evaluating the causes of boating accidents. If you've been involved in a boating accident, your time to file a claim against the responsible party is limited, so contact the Law Offices of Marc J. Shefman without delay at 248-298-3003 or by e-mail at

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