Officials urge boaters to take precautions, navigate with care

The one can't-live-without-it item for boaters this holiday weekend could save a life.

Authorities are encouraging anyone spending time on Lake Wylie or the Catawba River this weekend to wear a life jacket -- personal flotation device, or PFD, in technical terms -- at all times. Courtesy boat inspections are scheduled to make sure all boaters are prepared. It's one of several measures law enforcement officers are taking to keep people safe during the Fourth of July weekend.

Many boaters often keep life jackets nearby but don't wear them at all times. But Col. Alvin Taylor of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said 12 of the 13 fatal boating accidents so far this year in South Carolina could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing life jackets.

"The bottom line is PFDs save lives," he said. "So, put on your life jacket before you board your boatand don't take it off until the voyage is over."

Be alert on the water

Another concern for boaters is traffic. The July Fourth weekend is typically one of the busiest weekends of the year on Lake Wylie, especially around the Buster Boyd Bridge during the fireworks display.

Boaters are encouraged to stay alert of other watercraft, especially when skiing or tubing, and to nominate a sober boat driver. Remember, it's illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said extra patrols will be on the water and at area boat ramps to help keep people safe.

Increased traffic patrols

The sheriff also is reminding people to drive cautiously if they're planning to attend the Carowinds fireworks show tonight.

Bryant said the traffic congestion on Carowinds Boulevard is one of law enforcement's biggest challenges on Independence Day. He is asking motorists to allow extra time when leaving the area after the show.

"The main thing is to just be patient," he said.

Drivers will also want to be aware of patrols in other busy areas. The S.C. Highway Patrol this week announced it will be heavily patrolling Interstate 77 and U.S. 21.

There also will be public safety checkpoints on river and lake access roads to prevent DUI-related accidents. Drivers are encouraged to slow down and ask all passengers to wear seat belts.

"Our primary focus ... will be preventing DUI and speed-related collisions," said Capt. Mark Wright, commander of the Highway Patrol in York and Chester counties. "We will ... be especially vigilant around waterways."

Boat inspections

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources will conduct courtesy boat safety inspections this weekend at the Ebenezer boat landing on Lake Wylie. Officers will be available to check vessels for safety and meeting state laws. Boaters will be allowed to correct violations without penalty before entering the water.

The free checks will be from 10 a.m. to noon today, 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

To learn more about boating regulations, call 1-800-277-4301.

To report an intoxicated boat operator or other violations, call the DNR 24-hour hotline at 1-800-922-5431.