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Yesterday was the first day of spring which means soon the lake and waterways in SWLA will be covered with recreational boaters, floaters and paddlers.  According to the US Coast Guard errors account for 70% of boating accidents.

The red and green lights on the bow of your boat as well as the white light on the stern have very specific meanings, you should be able to signal other boats in your area, and naturally in the worst case if as much water enters your boat as is on the outside, you need some secondary means of floating for everyone on-board.  Do I have to mention that drinking and boating is a no-no?

Here's Five Important Things To Know and Do Before You Launch

1. Accident Reporting - they will happen but hopefully not to you.  If you're in a recreational boating accident federal law requires you report any accident with a fatality, a person disappears (you're fishing in the Gulf and somebody decides to take a dip and isn't seen after) A person is injured requiring emergency medical treatment (fish-hook through the ear at the emergency room? it must be reported) and damage to your boat of over $2,000 value or total destruction.  Accident reporting forms are available here

2.  Boater Education - Probably should be number one on this list - first time boat owners, kayakers and old salts should take or at least review water safety courses that are available not only from the Coast Guard but other online courses as well.  Just search for 'boater education' before you get wet.

3. Vessel Safety Check - This is a free service from the US Coast Guard, simply call the Lake Charles Marine Safety Office (MSO) 337) 491-7800 and set up a mutually beneficial time to bring your boat by, or have them come to where your boat is docked/stored.

4. Life Jackets and How to Wear Them - when something goes wrong and water is pouring in over the transom or gunnels, or a wave just capsized you, that's not the time to learn the location of and how to don (put on) your life jacket.  Your passengers/family should instinctively know where they are and how to put them on quickly, younger children should wear them constantly.  A boat 16' in length and longer must have a life jacket for everyone on the boat; adult life jackets do not work for kids.  You also need to test them annually.

5. Kayakers - distances on water always look shorter than they actually are, many drownings occur when people think they can swim to shore, conversely paddling out with the wind in the morning and trying to paddle home against the wind can be troublesome.  Obviously while paddling and fishing your life jacket should be on at all times, you're practically in the water already!  Here are another ten safety tips especially for paddlers here.

So, spring is here and Contraband Days, over the water fireworks and fishing, skiing and just riding the rivers season is upon us.

Be safe and also visit the local Lake Charles Coast Guard Website before you go off into the deep end.