Mississippi park rangers will strictly enforce boater safety laws

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JACKSON, Miss. -- The long Fourth of July weekend means many of you will be heading out to area lakes, getting a lot enjoyment from boats and other water craft.

But remember: a day of fun on the water can quickly turn deadly if you're not careful.

That means more than just wearing a life jacket.

A popular YouTube video shows seven people riding a pleasure boat in Missouri, violently tossed through the air when their boat hits rough water. The video is a graphic example of how quickly a boat ride can go from fun to disaster.

It's that kind of accident Park Ranger Ernie Lentz doesn't want to see at happening Arkabutla Lake, especially on a crowded Fourth of July holiday.

"We will have a boat patrol on the water all three days of the weekend, starting tomorrow and running through Sunday," said Lentz.

Park rangers will also get assistance from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

They will be on the lookout for people who are BUI (boating under the influence) or people not wearing life jackets, which is a big "no-no" at Arkabutla Lake.

"Depending on the size of their boat, there are rules that require them to wear a flotation device when they are underway. And if their boat is smaller, then they have to wear it the whole time they are out there," said Lentz.

If you forget a life jacket or need an extra, you can borrow one from one of the Life Jacket Loaner Stations at Arkabutla. Just pick the right size, close all the snaps and make sure it's a snug fit.

"And then the way to check it is have the person raise their arms up above their head. And if you can pull the jacket off of them, then obviously it's too loose," said Lentz.

Make sure you return the life jacket to the Loaner Station when you are finished it.

There's something else to keep in mind if you plan on boating at Arkabutla Lake. Record rainfall during the month of June added another ten feet of water to the lake, so boaters are urged to stay in areas they are familiar with.

The high water level has forced the U.S. Corp of Engineers to close the beach at Hernando Point because it's underwater. So is the boat ramp on Highway 51 North of Coldwater.

Thursday, Ray Steen wrapped up a morning of fishing on Arkabutla Lake with his father and 4-year-old grandson.

The Fourth of July is a special day for Steen.

"My birthday is July the Fourth. I'll be 47 years old," he said.

He said the trio plans to camp at the lake during the long holiday weekend and spend some more time fishing.

But Steen said he knows there will be a lot more boaters on the water and staying safe on the waves is a lot like being a defensive driver on the road.

"You got to pay attention to other people and what they're doing.  Especially younger kids, if they're out there on jetskis and stuff.  You really got to pay attention to them," said Steen.

Lentz said boaters should never wait until a busy holiday to take their first boat ride of the season. They should know before hand if their boat is working properly and if they have all the necessary emergency equipment on board.