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A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

June is Great Outdoors Month, and whether it is our state and local parks, biking and hiking trails, or waterfronts and beaches, there are wonderful outdoor opportunities available to New Yorkers. As our communities continue working to get back to normal, getting outside and staying active can be a great source of physical, emotional, and mental wellness.  You can read up on the COVID-19 related guidelines at https://parks.ny.gov/covid19/

National Fishing and Boating Week was observed earlier this month as well.  With more than 7,500 lakes and ponds, 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, and hundreds of miles of coastline, New Yorkers are blessed with plenty of great options. While there are a number of health and safety restrictions in place to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, outdoor boating and fishing are activities that can still be enjoyed.

If you are looking for somewhere new to fish check out the DEC webpage https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7749.html.  There is even a free smartphone app – New York Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife – that can help you plan the perfect outdoor adventure.

When it comes to fishing, New York is stocked with something for everyone.  From small, rarely seen species of darters to large game fish like salmon and muskellunge, New York’s waters are home to an incredible variety of freshwater fish species.  Make sure you purchase a fishing license and understand the regulations pertaining to different species and seasons.

New York also provides several opportunities to fish for free with a pair of dates approaching later this month – June 27 and 28.  This is a great way to introduce someone new to the sport and perhaps hook him or her for life.

Fishing and other outdoor sports are big business in New York State as well.  Several years ago, a report from the State Comptroller found that nearly two million people fish, hunt, or trap in New York, ranking the state third nationwide.  The consumer spending generated on these sporting activities totaled more than $5 billion (trailing only Florida) in 2011, the most recent year for which such figures are available.  Nearly $1.9 billion was for trip-related purchases including transportation, food, and lodging.

Sportsmen generate a great deal of economic activity across the state, supporting bait and tackle shops, lodges and camps, guide services, hotels and motels, and many other small businesses dependent on a robust outdoor sports industry.

Staying safe on the water is also a top concern. Before even leaving the dock, some very important pieces of safety equipment should be on board your vessel.  First and foremost, you need a life preserver, also known as a personal flotation device (PFD), for each person on board.  If you are aboard a motorized boat additional requirements apply like visual distress signals, fire extinguishers, appropriate running lights, anchor and line, and a horn or bell. Each one of these items serves an important purpose should you run into any type of distress while on the water.

Along with the proper equipment, it is also essential that you understand the rules of the nautical road.  One of the best things any boating enthusiast can do is take the New York Safe Boating Course, sponsored by the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.  The course is a comprehensive boating tutorial (available in person or online), teaching the fundamentals of safe boating operation.  By 2025, all motorboat operators are required to take a safety course.  Depending on age, many boaters need a certificate now.

Information on upcoming courses along with a complete New York State Boater’s Guide,with all of the rules and regulations you need to know in order to boat safely and legally in New York State, are available on-line at www.parks.ny.gov/recreation/boating.  I would suggest calling ahead before attending any of the courses to be sure they are still being held.

Enjoy the summer and stay safe enjoying New York’s great outdoors.