Stay Safe While Enjoying the Water this Summer

Boating in MichiganWith the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial start of the boating season, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson reminds all watercraft owners to make safety a priority when enjoying Michigan’s many lakes, rivers and other waterways.

“Michigan has so much to offer when it comes to great water recreation,” said Johnson, who herself is an avid boater. “Don’t let anything mar your boating experience this summer. Take time to plan for safety for you and your passengers.”

Life-or-death situations most frequently arise when passengers aren’t wearing a personal floatation device. Drowning remains one of the leading causes of death in boating accidents, and of all drowning deaths reported to the U.S. Coast Guard in 2013, 84 percent of victims were not wearing a floatation device. Michigan law requires that each boat have enough life jackets for every person on board.

The Coast Guard also reports that alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, when the primary cause is known. Boaters should be aware that a new Michigan law lowers the limit for bodily alcohol content for watercraft operators from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent, similar to automobile drivers. People age 21 or younger may not operate a boat with any bodily alcohol content. The law also prohibits the use of certain drugs and any Schedule 1 controlled substances when boating.

“Alcohol and boats are a dangerous mix,” Johnson said. “Why risk possible death, personal injury or damage to your watercraft? Keep yourself and your passengers safe by obeying the law.”

While on the water, the U.S. Coast Guard recommends that boaters:

  • Take extra precaution near boats towing skiers or tubers.
  • Never reverse the boat to pick up someone out of the water but instead circle around to the person.
  • Examine the boat’s stern to make certain no one is near the propeller before the engine is started.
  • Be especially alert when operating in congested areas and never enter swimming zones.
  • Don’t allow passengers to ride on the bow, transom, seatbacks or other locations where they might fall overboard.
  • Stop immediately if someone falls overboard and slowly turn the boat around while keeping the person in sight as you apprach.
  • Learn to recognize scuba diver makers.

Residents interested in taking a boating safety course may find one from the searchable online list maintained by the Department of Natural Resources at The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (, the U.S. Power Squadron ( and many county sheriff’s offices also offer courses. A boating safety course is required for anyone born after 1978 who operates a personal watercraft and for anyone born on or after July 1, 1996 who operates a motorboat.

Additionally, state law requires that a boat pulling a skier or tuber must have another person besides the operator to observe the person being towed.

Johnson’s office oversees the registration and titling of more than 915,000 watercraft. Michigan is third in the nation for sales of watercraft, boat trailers and accessories, behind Florida and Texas, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Boaters are reminded that they can renew their watercraft registrations online at as well as order a replacement watercraft title, a convenient service if a boat is being sold this summer and the title can’t be found. The Recreation Passport, which is available for $11 when renewing a vehicle plate, provides boaters with access to any of the boat launches found in state parks across Michigan.