The unofficial boating season begins with Memorial Day next weekend -- and, with it comes the importance of knowing and practicing water safety tips.

"There are so many boats in Michigan. There are thousands of boaters and tens-of-thousand of swimmers and water sports enthusiasts," said Scott Holt, a marine deputy with the Kent County Sheriff's Department. "We want to make sure that everybody is safe so we do everything we can to help those folks."

Holt says one of the main reasons people drown or have near-drowning experiences is because they over-estimate their abilities while underestimating how dangerous the water can be.

"It is very easy to get into trouble especially on days like these, early in the spring, when the water is cold," he said. "If we don't have life vests on, or nearby, we can drown from hypothermia, almost immediately."

He says practicing prevention and being prepared are key to saving lives -- and, he cautions people to remember that anyone, especially kids, can drown in most bodies of water.

"Use life jackets. On Lake Michigan, and even the smaller lakes, people can fall off the docks and get caught up in a rip current," said Holt. "Life jackets are very important. Also have something that you can use to reach out into the water and help pull the kids out of the water, if they run into an issue.

"Have your phones handy so if need to dial 911. There are a variety of things, even your cooler, that can be used as a floatation device."

Holt says the single most important thing to remember is not to panic.

"Keep a cool head. Cool heads prevail as they say. Have a plan so that you can go and get a hold of someone. If you fall out of a boat or it overturns you want to have life jackets on. Have a flare that will draw attention immediately.

You can find more information on boating and water safety on the Kent County website.

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