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Holiday Boaters Require Added Safety Precautions on Mississippi Waters

By Rhonda Miller | Published 04 Jul 2012 12:15pm | comments
At the Coast Guard station in Gulfport, Petty Officer Matthew Mattern says safety is threatened by boaters who drink and tend to make mistakes and others who haven't quite mastered the complexities of piloting a boat.

The summer vacation season brings crowds of boaters onto Mississippi lakes, rivers and coastal waters. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports the first step in safe boating is to be prepared.

The preparation for this daily boat trip from Gulfport Harbor to Ship Island begins the night before. That’s when Captain Louis Skrmetta monitors the weather.

"You do not want to go out in the Mississippi Sound if there’s a chance of severe weather. It can be very, very turbulent. It’s shallow and it can be very rough. It’s surprising how rough the Mississippi Sound can get in certain conditions."

From decades on the water with his family business, Ship Island Excursions, Skrmetta is also ready for rough conditions caused by holiday boaters.

"I see people going too fast. I mean our boats are pretty big and they throw a big wake off to the side, and I see these little boats coming right up to us without slowing down and they’re caught off…by surprise."

Then, of course, there’s one of the biggest concerns – drinking and boating. Sixteen percent of boating deaths are from "boating under the influence," according to the Coast Guard.  And a majority of boaters who drown are not wearing life jackets.  At the Coast Guard Station in Gulfport, Petty Officer Matthew Mattern promises crews will out in force watching for fair weather boaters and partiers.

"If you’re drinking you’re more likely to make a mistake as if you weren’t. Your veteran boaters have been doing it their whole lives and are familiar with the area. You really don’t have a problem with them. A lot of tourists come down and are not very familiar, and that’s when you see a lot of your problems, with people that are not used to driving boats every day."

Being familiar with safe boating began 15 years ago for Randy Dupont, who docks his boat in Gulfport. That’s when he began taking Coast Guard courses.

"The biggest thing is to make sure you’re prepared properly in the beginning. Have some sort of plan when you go and make sure you’re not simply going without a lot of thought. Make sure you’ve got all the equipment in terms of the flares and the things that you need and then you’re in good shape."

In coastal waters, rivers or lakes, one of the most important safety rules for boaters is a basic one – wear a life jacket.

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At the Coast Guard station in Gulfport, Petty Officer Matthew Mattern says safety is threatened by boaters who drink and tend to make mistakes and others who haven't quite mastered the complexities of piloting a boat.


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