Mark Fuller

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Marine Patrol Lt. Mark Fuller speaks about boating safety Thursday at Wind Creek State Park.

Marine patrol officials are encouraging one key thing to stay safe on the water this weekend, and that’s preparation.

Last year was a deadly year on the waterways of Alabama. Nearly 30 people lost their lives in boating accidents and drownings. Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Marine Patrol Division Lt. Mark Fuller said planning can make for safe boating this year especially during a busy time like Memorial Day weekend.

“Boating accidents are usually the result of human error,” Fuller said. “Last year we did have a near record number of fatalities on the waterways across the state. It is anybody’s guess as to what contributed to that. Alcohol was a factor to many of those. It goes back to planning ahead.”

Fuller said planning includes establishing who will be the sober boat operator for the day. But planning goes further; it gets into equipment. Fuller suggests boat operators check on their boats before launching them. There need to be enough life jackets and lighting needs to be working.

“Make sure you have sufficient life jackets on the boats,” Fuller said. “Any children less than 8 years old are required to wear a life jacket. If you are going to be out after sunset, make sure your bow lights and stern are working and in the proper position. Make sure the stern light can be seen from 360 degrees.”

Fuller said Memorial Day will be a busy weekend on Alabama waterways especially Lake Martin.

“Typically Memorial Day weekend is our busiest weekend of the year,” Fuller said. “It even supersedes Fourth of July. The reason for that is people have been cooped up, in school and work and this is really the official weekend for the start of summer.”

Fuller said the coronavirus caused many to come to Lake Martin early and may be a reason for less boating traffic.

“School let out early and for spring break,” Fuller said. “We have had a lot of traffic since late March and early April. Hopefully with people already here, it won’t be as busy as it normally is and reduce the likelihood and chances of a crash. Traditionally (number of boats has) been massive.”

Fuller said boaters and visitors to the lake should still practice social distancing and ALEA Marine Patrol Division officers will be issuing citations.

“They just need to maintain the social distancing we have been talking about for weeks now,” Fuller said. “The governor’s order stating stay 6 feet apart is still in effect. Everyone just needs to abide by that.”

Fuller reiterated planning is key for a fun and safe time on the water, especially a holiday weekend.

“It’s the first weekend of the season for many boaters,” Fuller said. “Check your equipment before you come out and make sure everything is working properly; have a means to contact someone in case of emergency.”

Fuller said all available officers will be on the water to help make it a safe time for all.

“We will have everyone that is working on the water,” Fuller said. “Will it be enough? Only time will tell.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.