Spend much time in Montana, and you know that summertime means an influx of people – and that more than a few of them are towing boats. In Western Montana, lakes like Flathead Lake, Swan Lake, and Whitefish Lake transform from relatively empty fishing spots to top boating destinations. Unfortunately, not everyone comes prepared and knowledgeable about boating safety and regulations. And those people pose a real threat to the rest of us.
Too often, a day of drinking and careless boating can end in serious injury or death. As boating injury lawyers in Montana, we are aware of the dangers that reckless boaters pose. As natives who grew up around the water and with boating safety in mind, we’re even more outraged by what some people will do on the water.
Too often, people think that watercraft are just toys, that don’t deserve the respect and care that we would ordinarily show to motorized vehicles. And honestly, the opposite is true. Especially in Montana, we may spend 12 months a year driving our cars, but only a month or two of boating. Our skills get rusty and our intuitions fail. That’s one reason it’s even more important to be hyper vigilant on the water. Another good reason is that even if you’re being careful, it’s a likely bet that someone else isn’t.
Have fun, but remember to take care out on the water. As a starting point, here’s a list of items Montana law requires you to have on your boat:
- Life jackets: U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs or life jackets) must fit the intended wearer, be readily accessible, and be in good condition.
- Children under 12 years of age must wear a life jacket on a boat less than 26 feet in length that is in motion.
- Anyone towed by a boat must wear a life jacket.
- Motorboats less than 26 feet long must have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher.
- Exception: motorboats less than 26 feet long that are propelled by an outboard motor and are completely open construction (no closed spaces where gasoline fumes may be trapped) are not required to have a fire extinguisher.
- Motorboats 26 feet to less than 40 feet long must have at least two B-1 or one B-II fire extinguishers.
- Motorboats 40 feet to not more than 65 feet long must have at least three B-1 or one B-1 , and one B-II fire extinguishers.
- When a fixed fire extinguishing system is installed and operational in the machinery space of a boat, one less B-1 fire extinguisher is required.
- A motorboat 16 to 26 feet long must carry some means of producing an efficient sound signal that is audible for one-half mile, such as a whistle or a horn.
- A motorboat more than 26 feet long must have on board a bell and a whistle or horn capable of making a sound that is audible for one mile.
- Between sunset and sunrise and at other times of restricted visibility, vessels in operation must display navigational lights. All white lights required by the rules must be visible from a distance of at least two miles. All colored lights must be visible for a distance of at least one mile.
- Navigation lights include:
- a green light on the starboard (right) side of the boat
- a red light on the port (left) side of the boat
- a white light that is visible in all directions (usually located on the stern and higher than the red and green lights)