From the Gulf of Mexico to Tampa Bay, Pinellas County is a prime location for recreational boating. But as much fun in the sun as there is to be had, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office wants you to be safe on the water. So, we’ve compiled a list of boating safety tips to help you navigate the waves smoothly: Don’t boat under the influence. Remember, operating any vehicle – including a boat – while impaired by drugs or alcohol is illegal and can end in a lot worse than a citation. Just as you would before a night out on the town, designate a sober driver for days on the water. Pack life vests and other required equipment. After you’re equipped with the knowledge to operate a boat, stock your boat with the right equipment to ensure you’re prepared for an emergency. Pack a life vest for everyone on board, and visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website for a list of other mandatory items based on what type of boat you have: http://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/equipment/. Secure your engine cut-off lanyard. If you’re the captain, don’t forget to attach the shut-off cord to your wrist or life vest (as directed). Wear it at all times while the engine is running so that if the waters get rough and you fall overboard or lose steering control, the engine will shut off until you can regain composure. Scan constantly. There are no stop signs or traffic lights on the water, so you MUST constantly scan the water for other boaters, swimmers, water skiers, or stumps and other landmarks jutting up from the water that could severely damage your boat or harm you and others. Check the weather – often. Especially in Florida, where a sunny day can turn into a thunderstorm in a matter of minutes, make sure to know predicted weather conditions before you plan a boating trip. If you’re boating and you see or hear an unexpected lightning or rainstorm, head back to the dock as quickly and safely as possible. Remember your water safety necessities. Although operating a boat requires its own safety precautions, surrounding yourself with water means you must also maintain water safety staples like learning CPR, swimming, and supervising children at all times. Install a CO detector. You can be exposed to carbon monoxide both inside and outside the boat, so it is important to monitor CO levels to ensure passengers do not come into contact with dangerous levels of the gas. Get your boat checked. The Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons suggest getting your boat checked at least once a year, so they offer free 30- to 45-minute Vessel Safety Checks by certified vessel examiners. For more information, visit www.vesselsafetycheck.org. File a “float plan.” Share your trip details – where you’re going, when you plan to return, passengers’ names, and boat information – with a responsible person before you launch, in case you lose contact in an emergency. Make sure to contact that person when you return safely. Complete a safe boating course. Driving a car and operating a boat require different skill sets and knowledge about entirely different rules and regulations. Enrolling in an in-person or online boaters’ safety course is a great way to learn the rules of the water and familiarize yourself with basic boating principles. Visit the National Safe Boating Council website at www.safeboatingcouncil.org for links to several approved online courses. For more boating safety tips, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Boating Safety Council, and the BoatUS Foundation websites. And, don’t forget the sunscreen!