Most holiday weekends begin and end with many on the road — traveling to spend the time with family or on special outings.
Labor Day is no different. Many people like to spend the long weekend on or near the water, and it’s important to remember to stay safe while having a good time.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s Marine Division will be on hand to help  those who need it — and they will be enforcing the law.
Trooper Troy Griffith said two top priorities for boaters should be ensuring everyone has  personal floatation devices and making sure all vessels are equipped with proper fire extinguishers.
“PFDs come in every size, just like people,” Griffith said. “They’re
 not one size fits all.” When it comes to life jackets, Griffith said it’s imperative to check each one before heading out on the water. Every PFD must be US Coast Guard
approved, in good condition -- no rips or tears, all buckles working properly and sized appropriately for each person on the vessel.
“The letter of the law says the PFDs must be readily accessible,” Griffith said. “Nothing can be stacked on top of them. They can’t be stored inside something. That’s the law. I take it a step further, and encourage everyone strongly to wear their PFD at all times. It’s like a seatbelt. You don’t put a seatbelt on during a collision. You wear it all the time, just in case.” Griffith said in the case of a boating-related incident, you may not have time to reach for a floatation device.
“Nearly 80 percent of boating fatalities are the result of a victim drowning,” Griffith said. “Wearing your PFD at all times could possibly prevent that.”
Fire safety on board a boat is also important, Griffith said. “We are seeing a lot of folks purchase used boats over the past several years,” Griffith said. “Wear and tear on the vessel, especially electrical and gas line issues, sets up conditions that could lead to a sudden fire.” Griffith said an electrical short coupled with even a slight gas leak or even fuel fumes in an enclosed area could lead to a fire. While on the water, that could turn into a dangerous situation quickly.
“State law requires a fire extinguisher to be mounted on the vessel in an accessible place,” Griffith said. “That enables anyone on the boat to be able to locate and use it. Those extinguishers must also be US Coast Guard approved and at minimum a B-1 rated device.” Griffith said it is important to make sure you’ve got the correct kind of fire extinguisher for marine use so that you are equipped with the correct type of flame suppressant.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” Griffith said. “Watch out for children who may be swimming, even in shallow areas. Keep an eye on older children as well. Make sure people aren’t trying to do things they may not actually be capable of, like swimming all the way across a lake or a cove.”
Another safety concern, as with any other holiday, is the prevalence of alcohol consumption while boating. “Just like being on the road, you want to drink responsibly,” Griffith said. “Boating while intoxicated could very well lead to a disaster. Also, people should be aware that the stressors being out on the water places on your body can alter the way alcohol affects you. Drinking one beer while out on a boat is the equivalent of drinking three in a more controlled environment on land.” While on a boat, Griffith said, the combination of sun, heat and wind causes the body to become dehydrated and fatigued much more quickly. “You’re also using muscles you don’t normally use, just to maintain balance while on a boat,” Griffith said. “Most importantly, if someone speaks up and tells you to slow down or stop consuming alcohol, don’t get upset. Drink some water. The combination of alcohol and dehydration thickens the blood and makes it more difficult to function.”
Griffith said he encourages everyone to set a new pace for safety on the water: wear your PFD at all times, abstain from drinking or drink responsibly and thoroughly inspect your vessel before you set out on the water.