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Understand Colorado Boating Laws For Smooth Sailing This Labor Day!

Colorado boating laws and water safetyUpdate from July 2015. With the end of summer approaching and Labor Day Weekend upon us, we wanted to provide an update on summer water safety and Colorado boating laws before you head out to have fun on the lake for the end of the season.

It’s summertime in Colorado, a great time of the year to explore and enjoy the beauty and nature of our state For some of you that probably means heading out to the lakes, reservoirs, and rivers throughout the Colorado. But, before you go out for a refreshing dip and fun, let’s talk a little bit about how to keep your family safe out on the water, as well as, state boating laws and important safety measures.

Water Safety Tips

A 2015 survey from the American Red Cross found that nearly all parents (94%) expected their children to engage in some sort of outdoor activity on the water, but 61% of those parents reported that their child cannot demonstrate the basic skills needed to save their lives in the water. Those basic safety skills are:

  1. Step or jump into the water over their head.
  2. Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
  3. Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
  4. Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping.
  5. Exit from the water. If in a pool be able to exit without using the ladder.

Dr. Peter Wernicki, Chairman for the Aquatics Subcommittee of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council said, “Learning how to swim and maintaining constant supervision of those in or near the water are crucial elements of water safety…we urge families to make water safety a priority.”

Here are a few suggestions to keep you and your family safe this summer on the water:

  • Wear life preservers on motorized watercraft.
  • Never allow children near the water without supervision.
  • One adult should be in charge of supervising all in and around the water.
  • In shallow water, keep poor swimmers with-in arms reach.
  • Do not depend on water wings or “floaties” for children; they are not designed to keep a child’s head above water.
  • Assist someone in danger by reaching out a floating object.

Misunderstanding the dangers of being on the water without the proper skills may lead to a high number of accidents and fatalities. Please be careful on the water, and invest in swimming lessons for yourself and your children if needed.

Colorado Boating Statues and Regulations

Colorado boating laws are codified in the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.). The statutes cover such areas as boat registration or “numbering,” equipment requirements on boats, minimum age of motorboat operators, prohibited operations on a water vessel, operating a vessel while under the influence (BUI), rules regarding collisions and accidents, rules regarding water skis and other recreational devices, and more.

There are also several regulations regarding boating including dealer licenses, buoys, scuba diving, river use restrictions, personal flotation devices, sound levels, maneuvering and warning signals, among others.

By statute, you cannot operate a personal watercraft (a motorboat) unless each person aboard is wearing a United States Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. You also cannot operate a vessel (all watercrafts) on the water unless each child under the age of 13 who is aboard is wearing a personal flotation device, unless the child is below deck. You are also required to have aboard the following:

  • One personal flotation device in good and serviceable condition;
  • When operating during hours of darkness, you must have a light sufficient to make the vessel seen by other vessels;
  • If not an entirely open vessel, and if carrying inflammable fluid in any enclosure, you must have a natural or mechanical ventilation system.

See C.R.S. § 33-13-106.

Additionally, by statute no person under 16 shall operate a motorboat with one exception. A minor between the ages of 14 and 16 may operate a motorboat if:

  1. He or she completes a boating safety course approved by the division of parks and wildlife; and
  2. Has a boating safety certificate issued by the boating safety course provider in his or her possession.

C.R.S. § 33-13-108 covers prohibited boating operations. It includes some of the following rules:

  • It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a careless or imprudent manner (ex: airborne, unsafely weaving through traffic, operating at a high speed that requires you to abruptly swerve in order to avoid a collision).
  • It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a reckless manner.

C.R.S. § 33-13-108.1 is the operation of a vessel while under the influence (BUI) statute. If you have a BAC of 0.08 or more you are considered under the influence of alcohol, which is a misdemeanor offense. Also, check out the Division of Parks and Wildlife information on BUIs.

For more information check out the 2015 Colorado Boating Statutes and Regulations Pamphlet from the Division of Parks and Wildlife.

Boating Safety Recommendations

The National Weather Service (NWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has some great recommendations when it comes to safe boating.

The NWS further recommends that you do the following before you head out to the waters in order to prepare for hazards:

  1. Check the forecast.
  2. Check for the latest NWS buoy observations at the Observations from the National Data Buoy Center.
  3. Make sure your boat has all essential and required safety equipment and communications tools (jackets, fire extinguishers, cell phones, weather radios, etc.).

The NWS also provides some great information on what to do when the weather changes.

And for you kayakers out there, the American Canoe Association (ACA) has a great video covering the Top 10 Tips for Canoeing & Kayaking Safely:

  1. Always wear a life jacket
  2. Stay sober
  3. Obey navigation rules
  4. Check the forecast
  5. Know your limits
  6. File a float plan
  7. Wear appropriate clothing
  8. Avoid flood waters
  9. Portage around low dams
  10. Don’t stand in rapids

So if you are heading out this summer to go boating, kayaking, or canoeing, remember to be safe and prepared. But also have fun! 

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