LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Memorial Day weekend kicks off the year’s boating season, it’s time to find your towable tubes and water skis. Kentucky’s lakes and rivers will be packed with pontoons and speed boats, however, it’s worth stopping to think about the dangers before pulling up the boat’s anchor.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentuckians are getting more interested in recreational boating, but many do not have a lot of boating experience. In 2021, Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reported 17 boating-related death’s in the state’s waters. Officers said it’s the decisions you make before you start your engine that will make a difference this season.

If you are over 18 years old, you legally do not need to have a boating license to operate a boat. If you are younger than 18, you’ll need to pass a boating course. Officers said it’s smart to take a safety course no matter your age. The department offers free courses on its website.

Conservation officer Mike Pritchard said there are four things you need before you hit the water.

First, there must be a life jacket available for every person on the boat. If you’re 12 or younger, you must wear it at all times. Also, every life jacket must fit the person properly. A small child cannot wear a large life jacket made for an adult.

If you forget your life jacket or need an extra one, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has built “Life Jacket Loaner Stations” at many lakes, rivers, or streams across Kentucky.

Tragically, lives are lost to drowning each year, and the overwhelming majority of victims are not wearing a life jacket. In 2021, the department reported 52 deaths in the state’s waters. Seventeen of them involved a boat. This year, the department has not reported any boating-related deaths, but there has been 14 death on the state’s waters.

The closest “Life Jacket Loaner Station” to Lexington, is at Beaver Lake in Anderson County. Today, the department is opening a new loaner station a Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County. They are opening another next month at Lake Reba in Madison County.

Second, in case of an emergency, every boat should have a sound device. That could be a working boat horn, an air horn, or a whistle. Anything that can get someone’s attention.

Third, in case someone is thrown overboard, all boats must have a Type 4 throwable flotation device.

Although not required, officers recommend wearing an engine cutoff bracelet attached to the boat’s key, in case you are ejected from the boat while driving. Also, purchase navigation lights for when you are boating in the dark.

Fourth, your boat needs a fire extinguisher. Officers recommend checking yours now because they may have exploded during the winter.

In addition, to having these four things, officers want you to know where they are on your boat and make sure they are easily accessible.

“We just want people to think about what they are doing. Be aware of your surroundings. Be safe,” said Pritchard. “We want people to enjoy it and have a good weekend. But, we want them to come home and enjoy the rest of the summer.”

Having fun is on everyone’s mind. However, if alcohol is involved, a sober driver is legally required. According to the American Boating Association, alcohol is a leading factor in boating-related deaths. It makes up nearly 20% of them. Also, in Kentucky, it is illegal to have open containers of alcohol in public. That includes its waterways.

Finally, before you put your boat in the water, it needs to be registered in the state.