Gene Chague: Boaters: Follow safety rules, wear life jackets


The Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) are reminding boaters of safety guidelines, including the importance of wearing life jackets. They also are urging boaters to take a boating safety course, and reminding operators it's the law to operate boats only while sober and have safety equipment onboard.

"For the protection of everyone on the water, we want to remind all boaters to travel at reasonable speeds and never operate a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol," said MEP Acting Director Chris Baker. "Officers will be patrolling our waters and enforcing both state and federal recreational boating laws which are in place to ensure that all boaters have an enjoyable and safe boating experience."

Each boat must be equipped with one personal floatation device, or life jacket, for each person on the vessel. All children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times on any vessel, including personal watercraft such as Jet Skis or Sea-Doos. Everyone riding personal watercraft, and all water skiers and tubers, must wear approved life jackets.

Last year, there were 88 boating accidents in Massachusetts resulting in 12 fatalities. In 2012, there were 93 accidents and 15 fatalities. Of those 27 fatalities in 2012 and 2013, 17 were drownings and only two of the victims were wearing life jackets. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 560 boating fatalities nationwide in 2013; 77 percent of those deaths were due to drowning and of those, 84 percent of the victims were not wearing lifejackets.

Boaters are also prohibited from operating within 150 feet of a public or private swimming area. For inland waters, operating at speeds greater than 45 mph is prohibited.

Under Massachusetts law, boaters under the age of 12 may not operate a motorboat unless accompanied and supervised by an adult. Children between ages 12 and 15 must complete an approved boating course prior to unsupervised operation. Children under the age of 16 may not operate a personal watercraft. All boats are required to carry life jackets, fire extinguishers and navigation lights. A paddle or an oar is required on boats less than 16 feet long.

All boating accidents should be reported to the MEP at (800) 632-8075.

Staying with this sad subject, my fishing buddy, attorney Michael Shepard, of Dalton, and I spent a weekend fly fishing recently on the West Branch of the Ausable River near Lake Placid, N.Y. We took advantage of the state's free fishing days. The day before our arrival, two teenage boys had drowned in the swollen river, and they were still searching for one of them when we arrived.

The boys had been jumping into the raging river near the Flume, a place near where the river crosses under Route 86 at the foot of Whiteface Mountain between Lake Placid and Wilmington, N.Y. The river is squeezes into a chute with walls that stretch nearly 100 feet up on both sides. You can see it while standing on the bridge and it is a scary sight. The day before the teenagers drowned, the area had received 4 inches of rain and one can only imagine how that river was thundering through that chute. You rarely see any fishermen there even under the best of conditions.

The missing teen's mother, from Plattsburgh, N.Y., was staying in the same motel where we were (Hungry Trout) and was awaiting recovery of her son's body. Her husband had recently passed away and she had only the one son. It was so sad.

On Saturday, Mike and I fished, but the river was still high and dangerous and we had no luck. During the day, police helicopters were constantly flying overhead searching for the boy's body as were drift boats manned by state troopers. They even had some brave souls in kayaks searching every nook and cranny along the shores and banks.

On Sunday, the river had come down a little and we decided to fish it downstream of a dam which impounds the river in Wilmington (called Lake Everest). There is a spot down there where Mike likes to fish, and he usually wades out to the middle and leans or sits on a big rock while he fishes. But the water was still a little too high and he was forced to turn back.

I linked up with him after an hour or so of fishing and as we were talking, the river unexpectedly got loud, the water began to surge and its level came up almost a foot. His rock was suddenly under water. It turned out that officials had begun lowering Lake Everest in search of the body, without any siren or warning signs whatsoever. I shudder to think what would have happened if Mike had made it out to that rock. We may have been searching for another body.

We subsequently learned that it wasn't until the following Monday that they recovered the teen's body. There is nothing that can bring a community down like a drowning. Please, let's have none of that here in the Berkshires by obeying the boating safety regulations and respecting the water.

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MassWildlife reports that approximately 2,550 wild turkeys were taken by hunters during the 2014 spring turkey season, slightly less than recent averages.

They cited many factors that likely contributed to the decline: cold, rainy weather during the 2013 hatch resulted in sub-par poult production; the longer, colder past winter probably affected the timing and extent of spring turkey breeding movements, and lastly, cold and rainy weather during the first week of the turkey hunting season may have influenced hunter effort as well as turkey activity.

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Attention deer hunters: This Wednesday is the deadline for submitting applications for antlerless deer permits.

To reach Gene Chague:,
or (413) 637-1818.


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