Memorial Day is one of the busiest weekends on the water for the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast. The U.S. Coast Guard wants to prevent all accidents - from drowning to crashes - and they urge staying safe is really easy to do.
According to the Coast Guard, Florida is the most popular boating state in the country with about 900,000 registered boats. In 2017, the state recorded more than boating accidents and 66 deaths.
Clark Woods teaches public safety at the Flotilla of the Palm Beaches from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Riviera Beach.
He says before you step onto the boat, you need to make sure you have the basics checked off.
"You need to have life jackets, which is most important," he said. "A lot of people still leave them in the plastic. That is not an approved Coast Guard life jacket."
Woods says you only need to actually wear the life jackets if the boat is under 26 feet or if there is a child under 12 years of age.
"A lot of accidents happen getting on and off the boat," Woods said. "Put stuff on the dock, person boards the boat, then hand them coolers, bags, towels, whatever."
While out on the water, it's all about being alert. He says to look out for green and red signs called ATONS, or "aides to navigation." Those are like lines on the road; your boat must stay in between those signs because that is where the water is deepest.
"And stay off your phone," Woods urged. He says one of the more common offenses he sees is people overloading their boats.
"If you're overloaded, they'll [Coast Guard] send you back to the port or the dock or wherever you came from."
And that's really the only reason the Coast Guard can send you back to shore. However, they or law enforcement can ticket you for pretty much any other violation. That includes boating under the influence, speeding, or crashing.
"Just every now and then, just turn around and make sure some boat is not coming up on you too fast, texting, and all of sudden can ram into the stern of your boat," Woods said.
The Coast Guard can't tell you to stay out of the water due to severe weather. Woods says that's up to the boater's discretion but he urges you to use common sense, especially entering a weekend where choppy waters are expected.
"You really got to watch out for lightning because that can ruin your boat and ruin your day," he said.
But most importantly, make sure everyone on board gets back to shore safely. In the case of an emergency, Woods says it's best to use the frequency radio on your boat tune in to "16." Call for "mayday" and it will transmit to every boat nearby you. That's better than calling 911, because that call would only go to the dispatch center, who would have to call for a boat, and there's no telling how long that might take.
Woods says he teaches all of these safety tips during his all-about-safety boating classes. You can find that information here.