With approximately 1 million registered boaters in the state, that means there are plenty of busy waterways and, it follows, boating-related accidents, because seasoned, careful sailors are not the only people on Michigan waters. Seafarers range from neophytes to daredevils, and the inappropriate behavior of a vessel’s operator can lead to serious trauma, injuries, and even fatalities.
Imagine sharing the Michigan roads with a great deal of people who aren’t licensed or trained in any way, not to mention traveling in an area where there are no stop lights or marked lanes to guide you. While it may seem like Michigan lakes and rivers offer an opportunity to run wild and free from the demands of daily life, don’t be mistaken – the waterways are governed by their own laws, just like Michigan highways. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Marine Division investigates violations of marine and criminal state laws that occur on Lake St. Clair.
Your safety – no matter how much preparation you have undertaken to operate your boat of choice – is also in the hands of others. Even more sobering is the fact that about 75 percent of all boating accidents happen as the result of operator error. Boaters who don’t know the rules of the waterways, who drink too much, or who are unaware of their responsibilities, cause accidents.
The most common types of boating accidents involve two or more vessels crashing into one another, collision with a still object, skier accidents, electrical issues, and flooding of the watercraft. Alcohol usage is a top contributing factor in boating accidents and boating fatalities. Even people who have completed boating instruction courses can put their own lives at risk, as well as the lives of others, by being irresponsible or making poor choices while operating a boat.
One of the biggest differences between waterways and highways is that children under the age of 12 are legally permitted to operate a motorboat, within reason. The motor can be no more than 6 horsepower. If there is supervision by someone age 16 or older and the child under age 12 has been issued a boating safety certificate, they can operate a boat up to 35 horsepower. Operating a boat with a motor of more than 35 horsepower is illegal for children under 12 in every instance.
When it comes to personal watercraft (PWC) – also known as a jet ski, water scooter, or wave runner – no one under the age of 14 may operate one, and those aged 14 or 15 may only operate a PWC if they have a boating safety certificate and are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on the PWC or the parent or guardian is not more than 100 feet from the PWC.
There are a great deal of facts to know in order to travel safely on Michigan waters. For starters, you should be able to identify the stand-down vessel and the give-way vessel, as well as understand and know how to use all required safety equipment, when to operate running lights, and basic rescue techniques. In a perfect world, all boating accidents and tragedies are preventable because every person on Michigan waterways knows the rules and abides by them. The reality is quite different.
Boating is, for the most part, a leisure activity, whether you’re out for the day on your own, traveling with friends and family, fishing, chauffeuring a water skier, or docking and celebrating an occasion. From sailboats to pontoon boats to canoes to speed boats, waterway traffic is as varied as the cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles that populate Michigan highways, and so are the people who operate those boats.
But this isn’t what happens and, as a result, boating accidents occur far too frequently. Distraction, inebriation, showing off, speeding, and simply not knowing or following the rules – whether parked in a marina or sailing the seas – are all causes of boating accidents, property damage, injuries, and fatalities.