Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Summertime is here. That means about 17 million boats are hitting the water. Boating is a terrific family activity. It promotes bonding among generations, teaches kids independence and resourcefulness, and for many becomes an activity that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. It is also one of the fastest-growing outdoor recreations in America.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) represents 80 percent of the recreational boat manufacturers in North America. While new safety advancements are continuously being developed within the industry, nothing can replace common sense and good judgment on the part of boaters. Just as you wouldn't get behind the wheel of a car without driver's education, no one should take the helm of a boat without boating education.

I hope you find these safety guidelines important and share them with your readers:

BOAT OWNERS:

(1) Make sure your boat is in good running condition -- including fuel, electrical and engine systems.

(2) Check the weather forecast before you head out.

(3) Know and watch your boat's passenger capacity.

(4) Maintain enough life jackets and personal flotation devices (and the right sizes) for everyone on board. Make sure everyone wears them.

(5) Understand and follow federal and local boating rules and regulations. (The U.S. Coast Guard offers refresher courses.)

(6) Don't drink and drive, and don't allow anyone who has been drinking to drive your boat.

(7) Be courteous of other boats and personal watercraft.

PASSENGERS:

(1) Wear a life jacket that fits properly and make sure your children do, too.

(2) Listen to and respect the captain of the boat.

(3) Do not distract the driver or allow your children to do so.

(4) Do not insist that boat owners let you drive -- especially if you have been drinking.

Boating is safer every year, and we look forward to an even safer boating season this year. Anchors aweigh! -- THOM DAMMRICH, PRESIDENT, NMMA

DEAR THOM: Your safety guidelines are important and should be taken to heart by anyone who owns a boat or sets foot on one. Readers, that was the captain speaking -- listen up!

DEAR ABBY: I witnessed a theft and told a teacher, who promptly informed the cops. I feel terrible about it -- like I've betrayed the friend who did it. What should I do? -- WONDERING IN FLORIDA

DEAR WONDERING: First, forgive yourself. You did the right thing. While your friend may not appreciate it right now, you may have saved that person from a life of crime. Birds of a feather flock together, so the second thing you should do is find another friend who's less troubled than the first.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in a two-booklet set. To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 per set ($9 per set in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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