Labor Day boating comes with safety challenges this year

Published 7:43 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Boaters are reminded to stay safe and sober this last weekend of summer, and always wear a life jacket while on the water. 

A good day on the water can turn tragic in seconds, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources said in a news release. No matter where a person boats–from large lakes and rivers to small farm ponds—wearing a life jacket and staying sober are essential for safety. 

 “Recreational boating and paddlesports activities are enjoyed by individuals and families across the country. To ensure that everyone is safe out on the water, we will be out to assist in educating operators and passengers on the dangers associated with boating while impaired,” said Paige Pearson, DWR public information officer. “We also will be reminding them of other safe boating practices, such as wearing a life jacket and enrolling in a boater education course. DWR wants everyone to have a great end to the summer on the water, and to do that boaters must remain sober and alert while underway.” 

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 The National Weather Service has issued a tropical storm warning and a flood watch throughout the commonwealth, so DWR urges everyone to use extra precaution this week and weekend. 

Conservation Police Officers have responded to and worked several boating incidents that have resulted in fatalities and injuries because boaters and anglers have attempted to navigate waters that were affected by heavy rains, the release states. These waters have significantly higher than normal water levels, dangerously swift currents, and trash and other debris that could be floating on the surface or just below the waterline. 

While getting ready for the boating season, boaters should make sure they have U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets in good condition that fit every occupant of the boat, including children.  

No matter what time of year people go boating, they should always let someone know where they are going and when they expect to return, according to the release. Also, have a plan to reboard your boat in case the unexpected happens and you end up in the water. 

Weather conditions and a marine forecast can be found on the National Weather Service website. The United States Geological Survey has water temperatures for some inland lakes and rivers. 

Lowhead dams are all around us in the commonwealth. When creating a float plan, or before venturing out on a local waterway, boaters should familiarize themselves with lowhead dams. Danger lurks above and below the dam. 

Water flowing over a drop forms a hole or hydraulic at the base which can trap objects washing over the drop, DWR officials said in the release. Backwash or recirculating current is formed below the dam. Once swept over the dam, a victim becomes trapped and is forced underwater, pushed away from the dam, then circulated to the top. The circulating motion then repeats the cycle over and over again as the individual is drawn back against the base of the dam. 


Safety tips to follow: 

  • Scout the river and know the location of hazards. Talk with boaters who are familiar with the river to gain additional knowledge. 
  • Boat with experienced, responsible boaters and learn from them. 
  • Watch for a smooth horizon line where the stream meets the sky. This potentially indicates the presence of a dam. 
  • Look out for concrete retaining walls which are part of the dam structure and easier to spot. 
  • Portage around all dams. 
  • When portaging, re-enter the river at a point well downstream of the boil. 

To learn more about boating laws in Virginia and information on boating, boating education and water safety, please visit: Remember, everyone wants to have a safe, enjoyable day on the water. Help by wearing a life jacket and taking a boating safety education course, the release said.