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State marinas, safety officials prepared for boating season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mike Jordan, 33, literally knows the ins and outs of boats.

After graduating from the Marine Mechanic Institute in Orlando, Fla., in 2007, Jordan has dedicated his life to boat mechanics by dissecting and repairing motors.

"I enjoy my job and it is always rewarding to see the boats that I've worked on leave the dock," Jordan said.

Jordan began working as a mechanic at Charleston Marine in August 2012 and like many of his co-workers, he believes that training and education is key to boat safety.

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of West Virginia's boat season, and many boat enthusiasts are reminded to play it safe on the water.

Tim Coleman, lieutenant for boating education at the state Division of Natural Resources, said the season gets in full swing around Memorial Day and lasts through Labor Day. He said the most important safety tip is to wear a life jacket. Seasoned swimmers are no exception.

In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 462 boat fatalities that resulted in drowning deaths. Of those 462 deaths, 388 of the individuals, or 84 percent, were not wearing a life jacket.

"It is so critical to wear a life jacket," Coleman said.

"So many deaths could be prevented if people would just utilize life jackets and act responsibly on the waterways."

Coleman said the Kanawha River can be dangerous during the boating season because of heavy traffic on the water. Boaters should take extra precaution when nearing another boat and follow all laws associated with boat travel.

DNR officials reported 36 boating accidents resulting in 12 deaths in 2009. In subsequent years those figures have declined a bit.

Riley Brothers, president of Charleston Marine, a new and used boat dealer near the Patrick Street Bridge that also offers dock and storage space, said his business is at full capacity with 80 boats.

Many other state marinas, including those at Summersville and Sutton lakes, are expected to hit full capacity by this weekend.  

Jacob Bennett, an employee at Summersville Lake, said nearly all the slips there are occupied and the lake expects nearly 400 boaters this weekend.

Bill Hunt, owner of the Sutton Lake marina, said the number of boaters there ultimately will depend on the weather.

The National Weather Service is predicting a near 50 percent chance of rain on Friday and mostly sunny skies both Saturday and Sunday for Summersville and Sutton.

"We are very fortunate in West Virginia to have beautiful lakes and streams that boaters can utilize," Hunt said. "The water here at Sutton is crystal clear, and we are looking forward to a great boating weekend."

Both Bennett and Hunt said in addition to wearing life jackets, boaters should avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while operating motorboats. Hunt said the consequences for boating under the influence are as severe, if not more so, than driving under the influence.

According to boatingunderthe

influence.org, someone operating a boat with a blood-alcohol level of more than .10 percent is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than someone operating a boat while sober. In fact, BUI is responsible for about 34 percent of fatal boat accidents each year.

It is also important to know that no one born after Dec. 31, 1986, can operate a motorboat in West Virginia unless they have successfully completed the boating safety education class. The DNR was offering classes in preparation for the holiday weekend. Courses can be completed online or at various DNR locations around the state.  

The state Department of Commerce provides tips as boaters head for the state's 2,000-plus miles of navigable, fishable streams:

* Inspect your boat for mechanical defects and replace any safety equipment if necessary.

* Make sure you have enough life jackets and that they fit properly and are in good shape and readily available in case of an emergency.

* Make sure a fire extinguisher is onboard and properly charged.

* Make sure all the lights work and the boat is in an overall good condition.

Contact writer John C. Gibb at john.gibb@dailymail.com or 304-348-4872.

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