Michelle Rupp: Joining me now is Trey Reid from Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. We’re here to talk a little boating safety. Very timely. Trey, good to have you in today.

Trey Reid: Thanks for having me, Michelle.

MR: So first of all, have any of the laws changed? Any enhancements when it comes to boating safety?

TR: Not really too many changes. There’ve been some changes over the past decade or so, but in the last few years, not really too many changes. You know, many years ago, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission implemented a rule where if you were born after 1986, you have to have boater education to be on the water. Much like Hunter Education. Here’s what I would say though. We know from boating accident statistics that most of the folks involved in accidents are like about my age in the late 40s, early 50s who aren’t required to take it and who have a lot of experience on the water. So, it’s not like a youthful thing. And we had a lot of new boaters come in with Covid. Everybody was looking for outdoor recreation. You know, it was hard to find a boat for a couple of years, still some kind of supply chain issues there, but there was a little bit last year with some kind of new folks, but that were involved in some, you know, some of the accidents. But really, most of the time it’s people with a lot of experience on the water.

MR: It’s almost like you’re so comfortable with it, you’re so used to it that it just, that’s when accidents happen, it seems like when you get comfortable.

TR: You let your guard down. Yeah, I mean, and, and I want to be clear Michelle, I mean, boating is really an inherently safe thing to do. There are about a quarter of a million registered boats in Arkansas and those are motorboats and sailboats that doesn’t even count kayaks and canoes, you know, and they’re probably easily 100,000 of them out there. So, we’re talking about really a small percentage, but there’s some things you got to do to, you know, the biggest, the biggest problem is people not paying attention, just not seeing another boat, not seeing an obstruction in the water, like a log. You know, we had a really wet spring, and you know, all of a lot of our lakes are there, you know dammed up streams that create the lake’s most of them. And so, you know, logs and trees and things like that washed down, and you know, some people tell people don’t see them and they run into it, and it causes a boating accident.

MR: Let’s talk about where we stand right now. Just kind of on the cusp of the summer season where accidents are concerned.

TR: Yeah. So let me give you last year’s statistics. We had 54 reported accidents last year and 11 fatalities. Now I wanted to tell you that because just going into memorial day, which was the big, that’s kind of in boating season, that’s kind of the official kickoff to boating season and all summer long. Everybody’s on the water. We already had 11 reported accidents with seven fatalities. So, we have not gotten off to a great start in Arkansas this year.

MR: No definitely not. And one of the things we were talking about beforehand was the importance of life jackets.

TR: The single most important thing you can do. Obviously, I want to tell you there’s so many things, but life jackets are so important. If you’re 12 and under in Arkansas, it’s a law, you have to wear a life jacket. But As I said earlier, I mean, you know, you look at the average age of person involved in a boating accident, I think it’s like 49, so. And unfortunately, Michelle, when we look at boating accidents, most of the fatalities are from drowning and people aren’t wearing life jackets. You know, it’s not a requirement, but it is a requirement to have them on your boat, but they’re not doing any good if they’re, you know, in one of the holds on the boat. There’s so many life jacket types out there now, like the inflatables that you can wear their like suspenders almost that you’ll forget you have them on. I wear a little kind of like a belt, almost like a pack that is activated by the water. They’re not cumbersome, they don’t get in your way. They’re not the big style orange ones that we’re so familiar with.

MR: That’s what I remember, the big orange ones.

TR: Sure, sure. But yeah, wear that life jacket. It is like wearing a seatbelt in a car. You know, why not?

MR: So, if we are on any of the many lakes here or rivers even for that matter and we get into trouble, we’ve all got our cell phones, can we call 911? And can 911 find us or help us in the middle of Lake Hamilton, Greers Ferry, Ouachita?

TR: Absolutely, absolutely. You know, there are going to be some areas where cell service may not be as good, I mean, but you know, cell coverage has gotten a lot better throughout Arkansas and there are many places on our lakes. You know, especially like Hambleton, lots of parts of Beaver Lake uh you’re going to be able to dial 911. You know, just know kind of where you are try to be able to impart some information to the dispatcher as to where you are. And importantly, you know, game and fish Commission has a lot of wildlife officers and water patrol out there. And many, many county Sheriff’s Office also have water patrols, especially in these really popular recreational lakes like Beaver, Hamilton, Greer’s Ferry, Washington and that sort of thing. So there are people out there that can help if necessary.

MR: And this goes without saying, but just like in a car, don’t drive your boat after you’ve had a few.

TR: Yeah. You know, and look, I get it, you get out on the water, and you know, you want to have a cold beer while you’re out there and that’s fine. As long as you’re not the one driving the boat and, you know, have a designated captain for, for your boat. I will say this. One law that has come into effect over the last number of years that if you are convicted of boating under the influence, you can actually lose your driver’s license. So, the penalty is exactly the same for boating under the influence as it is for driving under the influence. The standards, the same 0.8 blood alcohol content. But you know, another thing, Michelle, the effects of alcohol are exacerbated when you’re out on the water, you got the motion, you’ve got the wind, you’ve got the sun and all of these factors contribute to maybe causing the alcohol to have maybe a greater effect on your reaction time and that sort of thing. And as we know, boats don’t have brakes, like cars, so you can’t just stop on a dime. So yeah, where that life jacket, stay off the, the alcohol, if you’re going to be driving the boat.

MR: You mentioned about the fact that your vehicle license could be taken away any kind of license that you need to have to drive a boat or does just your regular DL work.

TR: No, you don’t have to have anything unless you’re born after 1986. Actually after 1985. January 1 of 86 and after, you are required to have boater education card in order to operate a boat. But again, hey, whether you’re, you know, 15 or 55 or 65, I would strongly encourage people to take boater education. You’re going to learn a lot of these things we’re talking about, you know, just like, what are the rules of the road? I mean, and so, you know, give it a shot. You can do it online. It’s super easy, just make you that much safer out there on, on the water.

MR: And all of these, uh, rules and laws around boating. It’s not just a lake thing. If you’re out on the Arkansas river, still applies.

TR: Right. And there are some rules related to like litter and things like that. Like if you’re in a canoe or kayak, you can’t have glass containers and so there’s some other stuff besides just, you know, safe boating, you know, to protect our natural resources. But yeah, uh, whether you’re in the Arkansas River, the Ouachita River, the Buffalo River or on one of our big lakes or a game and fish lake, many of these rules apply across the board.

MR: Okay, very good. Trey, anything else you’d like to add? Just get out there and have a good time on the water. And you know, I feel like I might be a little preachy. But you know, these accidents happen every year. We want you; we want you to enjoy the resources. We want you to enjoy a day on the lake or on the river but come back safe and you know, just, just be careful out there.

MR: Okay, Trey. Thanks so much.

TR: Thank you, Michelle.

MR: And thank you for joining us. We’ll see you back here next week for more AFMC TV.