Coast Guard urges boaters to celebrate safely during Harborfest weekend

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads encourages boaters to have a safe, fun time on the water during Harborfest and the Fourth of July weekend.

Boaters should expect an increased Coast Guard presence on the water, paying particular attention to recreational boating safety.

The Coast Guard will enforce maritime safety zones during the Harborfest fireworks displays, parade of sail, and motor vessel races.

The fireworks display safety zones will be enforced at these times: Friday, July 3, from 9:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 4, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday, July 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The safety zone will extend 500 feet from the barges in all directions.

During the parade of sail, the safety zone will be 300 feet ahead of the procession and 100 feet on both sides.

During the boat races, the safety zone will be 200 feet ahead and 200 feet to both sides.

While observing the safety zones and at all other times in the water, the Coast Guard asks boaters to practice safe and responsible boating simply by always wearing a life jacket and staying alert and aware while on the water —safe boating saves lives.

Swimming after dark is discouraged. During this event, there will be many boats in the water, and swimmers may be unsafe due to poor nighttime visibility.

The Coast Guard also wants to emphasize that boating under the influence is just as deadly as drinking and driving. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. Penalties for violating BUI laws can include fines, suspension or revocation of boat operating privileges, and imprisonment.

The possession and usage of fireworks is illegal in the state of Virginia, therefore boaters should not light off fireworks from their vessels during this event. Also, fireworks from boaters could be mistaken for distress flares, compromising the readiness of rescue crews responding to false alerts.

Also, lighting of flares when not in distress is a class D felony, which could result in fines, imprisonment and liability for all costs of the Coast Guard’s response to the false alert.

Boaters can also have a safe and pleasant time on the water this weekend by:

  • Making sure a friend or relative knows your float plan. A float plan states where you are going and how many people are on board your vessel. It also gives a vessel description, details your destination and what time you expect to arrive there. If you are delayed for some reason, make sure you let someone know.
  • Making certain to check the local weather prior to departing the dock. Weather can change very rapidly and you should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions.
  • Having nautical charts of the area you are boating in, a global positioning device and a reliable means of communication on board your vessel. VHF-radio is the best method of communications while on the water. Although cell phones are a good backup, they can be unreliable due to gaps in coverage area and the inevitable dead battery.
  • Wearing your life jacket! Eighty-five percent of boaters who drown were not wearing their life jackets. In an emergency there might not be enough time to put one on, so wearing one at all times may save your life.

The Coast Guard will also be participating in Harborfest itself. The Coast Guard Cutter Shearwater, an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Virginia Beach, Va., will be moored at Town Point Park and will be open for free public tours Friday from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m.

Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City will provide a search-and-rescue demonstration involving a rescue helicopter and crew from the station at 1 p.m. Sunday. During the demonstration, a rescue swimmer will deploy from the aircraft and the crew will demonstrate several techniques for hoisting and at-sea rescues.

For further boating safety information, please visit one of the following websites:

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

Vessel Safety Checks

Coast Guard Boating Safety page

National Safe Boating Council

U.S. Power Squadrons

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