Department of Natural Resources officer Andy Crozier cautions boaters to know the rules and to practice safe boating while on the Ohio River. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/
Department of Natural Resources officer Andy Crozier cautions boaters to know the rules and to practice safe boating while on the Ohio River. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/
Many people head to the Ohio River for a relaxing day on the water, but the day could become disastrous if necessary precautions and proper safety equipment are ignored.

As the busy boating season approaches, local safety officials caution boaters to remember - or relearn - the basic rules of the water and to use common sense while out for the day.

The best way to stay safe on the river is to always make sure to know the river and to take all necessary safety precautions, Indiana Department of Natural Resources officer Andy Crozier said.

"The most important thing on the water is the life jacket," Crozier said. "It's a safety belt on the water."

Children under the age of 13 must have a child's life jacket on at all times as required by Indiana law. Kentucky requires children under the age of 12 to wear a life jacket, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website said.

"If they're on the deck, they have to have their life jacket on," Crozier said.

Crozier also reminded boaters that everyone on the water must have the correct size life jacket. He said he often finds children with adult-sized life jackets.

"People do that thinking it's more protection," he said, yet an adult-sized life jacket makes it easier for children to slip out of the jacket and into the water.

Adults also need a life jacket in correct working order, readily available and the correct size.

"You're going to need (life jackets) instantly when you need them," Crozier said, noting life jackets in storage won't be of much help if a boat capsizes or is hit.

Still, emergency responders are ready for water rescues should something go wrong or someone needs help.

The Milton Fire and Rescue department in Milton, Ky., maintains a water rescue boat and responds to calls from the U.S. Coast Guard, much like the Indiana Department of Conservation, Fire Chief Jason Long said

"The Coast Guard will get a call from a barge," Long said, or people living near the river may call through the area dispatch to report a possible incident on the water.

While most of the calls aren't actual emergencies, once in a while crews have to respond to a boat accident or a report of someone jumping off of the Madison-Milton bridge.

"The majority of our (calls) are just boats adrift," Long said.

The Milton crew responds to about 10 emergency calls a year.

"People don't understand the river," Long said. "Just knowing the river is the biggest thing."

As with any body of water, danger does exist from high water, driftwood and large pieces of debris from time to time.

"Remember it's always changing," Crozier said of the river.

Even though lakes and ponds may stay the same over time, the river could change throughout the day or weekend - and the river changes considerably from one boating season to another.

Another difference between lakes and the Ohio River is the commercial traffic traveling on the major waterway, Crozier said. Barge traffic on the river makes evening boating more dangerous than on other waterways or lakes.

"At night you can't see," he said.

Required lights help identify other boats on the water, but some lights might appear to be farther away or seem as if they are from the shore.

"That's one of the hardest things - to keep lights in working order (on a boat)," he said.

While Indiana and Kentucky maintain separate laws and regulations for operating on the Ohio River, anyone holding an Indiana or Kentucky fishing license is allowed to fish the Ohio River bank to bank with either state license, Crozier said, but people must follow the regulations of the state they are licensed while boating or fishing.

In Indiana, boaters are required to have a valid driver's license, as well as a valid boat registration when operating on the river. A boater's education course in Indiana allows someone to drive a boat beginning at the age of 15. Boats may be operated by people ages 12 and up in Kentucky should they pass a boater's education course, the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website said.

Still, the U.S. Coast Guard and conservation officers may check a boat if they have reasonable reason to do so. While most violations issued by conservation officers deal with life jackets, other violations issued include driving a boat while intoxicated and reckless driving, Crozier said.

Boaters should also beware of the speeds allowed on the river. The Ohio River has unlimited speeds 24 hours a day unlike other bodies of water, but drivers should still use caution and common sense when operating on the river - especially near boat ramps, in congested areas and around construction areas, Crozier said.

Even though the river allows for unlimited speeds, conservation officers might cite Indiana or Kentucky boaters for reckless operation if passengers or other boaters are deemed to be in danger.

Overall, the stretch of river throughout the Courierarea doesn't have a high number of accidents like other area.

"It's a very safe body of water," Crozier said, yet precautions still should be taken for a day out on the water.

Above all else, watch out for others and use some common sense to help avoid accidents, he said.

"Be courteous to other boaters," he said. "It's just using common courtesy."