Independence Day weekend brings increased boat traffic

Environmental officials remind citizens to practice safe boating, wear life jackets

BOSTON ( – On the eve of the Independence Day weekend, the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) are reminding boaters of safety guidelines, including the importance of wearing lifejackets.

“Massachusetts is home to coastal waters, lakes and rivers ideal for boating, and we encourage all residents and visitors to have fun and stay safe on the water this season,” said Energy and Affairs (EEA) Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett, whose secretariat includes the MEP. “It only takes a few moments to put on a life jacket. It’s time well spent because it saves lives.”

In addition to wearing life jackets, officials are urging boaters to take a boating safety course, and reminding operators it’s the law to operate boats only while sober and have safety equipment onboard.

“For the protection of everyone on the water, we want to remind all boaters to travel at reasonable speeds and never operate a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” said MEP Acting Director Chris Baker, whose agency is responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth’s boating and recreational vehicle laws. “Officers will be patrolling our waters this weekend enforcing both state and federal recreational boating laws. These requirements are in place to ensure that all boaters have an enjoyable and safe boating experience.”

Each boat must be equipped with one personal floatation device, or life jacket, for each person on the vessel. All children under 12 are required to wear a life jacket at all times on any vessel, including personal watercraft such as Jet Skis or Sea-Doos. All persons riding personal watercraft, and all water skiers and tubers are required to wear approved life jackets.

There were 88 boating accidents resulting in 12 fatalities in 2013. In 2012, there were 93 accidents and 15 fatalities. Of the 27 fatalities in 2012 and 2013, 17 were drowning and two of the victims were wearing life jackets. According to the United States Coast Guard, there were 560 boating fatalities nationwide in 2013; 77 percent of those deaths were due to drowning. Of those who drowned, 84 percent of the victims were not wearing a lifejacket.

“In boating accidents, life jackets can be the deciding factor between life and death,” said Acting Director Baker.

Operating any vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Boaters are also prohibited from operating within 150 feet of a public or private swimming area. For inland waters, operating at a speed greater than 45 mph is considered excessive and is prohibited.

Under Massachusetts law, boaters under the age of 12 may not operate a motorboat unless accompanied and supervised an adult. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 must complete an approved boating course prior to unsupervised operation. Children under the age of 16 may not operate a personal watercraft. All boats are required to carry life jackets, fire extinguishers and navigation lights. A paddle or an oar is required on boats less than 16 feet long.

All boating accidents should be reported to the Massachusetts Environmental Police at (800) 632-8075.

The Environmental Police encourage boaters of all ages and experience to take a safe boating course. Click here for registration information and links to nationally approved course providers.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Office of Law Enforcement – known also as the Massachusetts Environmental Police – is the primary agency responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth’s fish and game and boating and recreational vehicle laws. MEP officers enforce laws and regulations related to the protection of natural resources and public parks and land; boat and recreational vehicle use; and hazardous waste disposal. MEP officers serve as stewards of the state’s natural resources, patrolling forests, parks, inland waterways and coastal waters throughout the Commonwealth. For more information about boating laws or the MEP, please visit our website at 

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