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Wildlife officials work to keep boaters safe

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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH -- We're heading in to Memorial Day weekend and that means people are hitting the water. Wildlife officials estimate that about 400 boats will be out in the Masonboro area alone. And more people means a greater chance of something going wrong. The Wildlife Resources Commission works to keep those boaters safe. N.C. Wildlife Officer Fred Gorchess said, "We encourage people to come out here and have a good time, but you need to act responsible." Wildlife officials say being responsible means having the proper equipment on board, and following the rules. Wildlife officials say the most common violations are for boaters not having enough life jackets on-board or a fire extinguisher. Gorchess said, "We also get a lot of people out here that are operating the boat while impaired and breaking a no wake zone." Boaters don't even have to be doing something wrong to be stopped. Officers say this weekend, they will check at least 40 boats each day. Gorchess said, "When we see a boat we'll activate our blue lights at that time. I'll tell the operator of the other boat to put the boat in neutral and shut the boat off. Then I'll pull up to the boat ask for registration and safety equipment." The first boat we stopped was completely in compliance. The next one, that wasn't the case. Gorchess said, "The boat we just checked did not have a type four portable device on it or a fire extinguisher that was charged, so the gentleman will be issued a warning citation for both of them." The operator said he was merely repairing the boat -- that it didn't belong to him. Wildlife officials say even if the boat's not yours if you're behind the wheel, you're responsible. Gorchess said, "People need to make sure when they rent a boat or they are doing work on someone else's boat that they have the proper safety equipment on the boat." If you get a citation it'll cost you $35 plus court costs. If you're caught operating a boat under the influence you will be arrested. If you are a new boater, North Carolina Wildlife officials suggest taking the boater safety class that they offer to help you start your boating season off safe. Boat gas prices With gas prices at record highs and boating season right around the corner will the higher cost of fuel keep some folks from having their summer time fun? Many of the boaters we spoke with say their boats are still on the water, but they're spending more time anchored and less time riding around and doing water sports. North Carolina Wildlife officials say that they see more boaters idling around instead of running their full speed ahead.

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