MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Columbus Day weekend is traditionally a very busy weekend on the waters off South Florida and the Coast Guard wants to remind boaters to use extra caution.

Coast Guard crews, along with local and state law enforcement agencies, will be patrolling, conducting safety checks and ensuring mariners are staying safe.

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Consider these boating safety tips before leaving the dock:

Never boat under the influence (BUI): It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Have a designated boater.

File a float plan: Leave a detailed float plan with a friend or family member who is staying back. The sooner a vessel can be reported overdue, the more likely a positive outcome will result.

Wear a life jacket: Life jackets save lives. According to www.uscgboating.org in 2018, 84 percent of boaters who drowned in a fatal boating accident were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can leave even a strong swimmer injured, unconscious, or exhausted in the water.

Take a VHF-FM marine radio: Cell phones may lose signal off shore and run out of batteries after a day on the water. They are helpful, but not reliable for emergencies. VHF-channel 16 is the marine emergency channel. It should only be used for emergencies. Boaters can reach the Coast Guard on marine-band radios at any time, day or night.

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Monitor weather broadcasts: Watch for current storm and small craft advisories. The National Weather Service broadcasts marine weather forecasts regularly. Forecasts can be heard by tuning in to channels 1 through 5 on a VHF marine radio or by checking the NWS website at www.weather.gov

Have a signaling device to communicate an emergency: Boaters should have a signal flares, whistle, horn, or signal mirror, in addition to an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) to alert first responders to the location of a water emergency.

When boating at night, be especially cautious. Vessels should be properly lit and operate at reduced speeds at night due to limited visibility, back-lighting from the shore can be confused with aids to navigation and unlit obstructions. Boaters should always maintain a proper look-out, know their equipment, proceed at safe speeds and stay within the marked navigational channel, particularly when operating in the vicinity of unlit pilings, piers and jetties.

If you see something, say something. If you see someone in danger or someone you suspect may be boating under the influence, contact the Coast Guard via VHF channel 16 or to local first responders via 911.

Download the Coast Guard boating safety mobile app.  Features included on the app are the latest safety regulations and navigation rules, as well as immediate access to filling a float plan, checking the weather, and reporting pollution hazards or suspicious activity. Click here to get the free app.

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