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Got plans to boat on CT’s waterways? Here’s how to stay safe

The Terry Backer II, a boat captained by the Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey of the nonprofit Save the Sound, makes its way across Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
The Terry Backer II, a boat captained by the Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey of the nonprofit Save the Sound, makes its way across Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook.

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Connecticut is already seeing summer-like weather as the month of May wraps up. The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the 70s and 80s around the state — and likely bringing more boating, sailing and paddling to the state’s waterways.

State environmental experts are reminding people what to keep in mind to keep boating adventures both fun, and incident-free.

Suit up

Sunscreen is a must, but try to wear clothing made from polyester, which is more water-resistant than cotton.

Under state law, life jackets must be easily accessible, according to Wendy Flynn, an environmental analyst at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“A U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket is required for every person on board whether it's a motor boat, or a paddle craft or a sailboat and they have to be properly fitting in serviceable condition,” Flynn said. “And children under 13 have to wear their life jacket at all times.”

The latest state data shows that 88% of drowning deaths during boating occur among people not wearing a life vest. Flynn said these devices are especially important in case of water immersion, since Connecticut’s water is still pretty cold through May into June.

However, there's no laws on animals having to wear a life jacket, but Flynn recommends that furry companion passengers also wear one just in case.

Before the launch

DEEP recommends doing vessel maintenance with the boating season starting up again. And know where the closest state marina is in case of an incident or accident. There’s other things to consider before hitting the water, Flynn said.

“Do you have enough gas in your boat?” she said. “If it's a sailboat, will there be strong winds to prevent you from getting back to the port that you started at?”

Having a working fire extinguisher along with no damaged or expired safety equipment is also vital. The state’s 117 boat launches offer free and voluntary safety checks to ensure all required equipment is on-board.

Use good judgment and communicate

While enjoying time on the water, it’s also important to pay attention to the weather forecast and the tide, know your limits and change the day’s plan if necessary, Flynn said.

State law also requires that boat operators be sober to avoid incidents or accidents.

Someone onshore should also know the location and timing of a boaters’ trip, according to Flynn. This is called a “float plan”.

“Whether there was an accident or an incident, or they're just running late, the person on shore can reach out to them to see if they're safe,” Flynn said. “And if they don't respond, then the person on shore can reach out to the local marine patrol so they can possibly do a patrol to see if they're O.K.”

Learn more

Information about boating safety, certifications, and education can be found on DEEP’s website.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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