Just before the Memorial Day holiday — often seen as the official start of summer — we were unfortunately reminded of the dangers of Lake Erie. On Saturday, a pair of boaters was reported missing after they did not return to Geneva State Park before dark. An overturned boat was spotted by helicopter about 2 a.m. Sunday and life jackets and other items were spotted in the search area about 6:45 a.m. Sunday. As of Tuesday afternoon, the pair still had not been found by rescue workers.

Many people will be getting their boats out on the water for the first time this weekend. While the water provides plenty of great opportunities for fun, it is important to take precautions and be safe because summer fun can turn to tragedy quickly. According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, since 2010 there have been more than 750 Great Lakes drownings.

“I cannot stress enough that drowning really is a public health issue that needs to be treated like a public health issue,” Dave Benjamin, Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project executive director, said last fall. “A water safety school curriculum needs to be mandated and funded in the Great Lakes region as well as nationwide. Great Lakes drownings are just the tip of the iceberg of the nationwide drowning crisis.”

When it comes to being out on a boat or small craft, the top priority is boating safely and soberly. Since 2015, there have been 63 boating-related fatalities in Ohio, and of those 10 involved alcohol or drug use.

Too many people fail to take alcohol seriously on the water, but there are many risks. An inebriated passenger could fall into the water and drown. While boats have “the open water” to navigate and are not often near other vessels outside of the docking area, that also makes boats vulnerable to obstacles from all angles. And, unlike when someone has too much to drink on land, Lake Erie does not offer any water Ubers.

In addition, Lake Erie is notorious for quick changes that result in dangerous conditions that come with little or no warning. All those enjoying our lakes and streams, including boaters, need to remain constantly vigilant regarding the weather conditions.

Along with being safe, boaters should be smart before ever leaving the dock. Check your engines and perform other basic safety checks to make sure the boat is up to snuff — especially the first time you take it out for the year. And the most important — and often most neglected — safety tip is to make sure there are enough life jackets on board for all passengers. It is not only important to have lifejackets on board but to actually use them, particularly for children 10 and younger who should wear a life jacket at all times.

We hope everyone has a safe and smart boating season and enjoys the upcoming holiday weekend.

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