The Fourth of July holiday was marred by tragic deaths across the state, particularly on popular waterways.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Marina Patrol Divisions worked fatal boat crashes from the Montgomery area to Smith Lake in Cullman and Winston counties.

Locally, one boater remains missing after a crash involving two boats around 10 p.m. Thursday, leaving five others injured. Divers have been working each day in an attempt to locate the Troy native and Birmingham teacher. The driver of the boat was charged with boating under the influence.

The next day, before sundown, another boat crash on Smith Lake left a 12-year-old dead and two others injured.

The state’s Marine Patrol, while not a large force for the vast areas it covers, has plenty of information and rules to follow for safe boating.

Knowing that Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day are among the busiest times on Alabama rivers and lakes, every effort is made to patrol waterways and spot potentially dangerous violations.

The first and more sensible advice is that life jackets are the best protection from tragedy. Just as a seatbelt in a car, having the ability to stay afloat on the water is the best chance for survival. Children 8 and under should have one on at all times, and once a boat is moving, everyone should have a properly fitting life vest on.

And while there are not painted lanes on the water, staying to the right is the rule of boating. Staying to the left is the same thing as driving the wrong in motor traffic.

All boats should also be equipped with kill-switches that instantly cuts the motor off during a crash or if the operator is not at the station. And anyone boating at night should be sure that all lights are working properly before going out.

Boat traffic can become congested on the holidays or just about any summer weekend. Alabama’s waterways are meant to be enjoyed. But safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Also, anyone who has consumed alcohol should never attempt to operate a boat. Again, just like on the highways, drinking is always a recipe for disaster when operating a boat or vehicle.

Considering the rash of accidents this past weekend, which included six deaths in 12 water crashes, following all safety rules must be the top priority when on our waterways.

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