The water must be respected.

I learned that lesson in the remote channels of the Alaskan Inside Passage. One minute the water was calm. The next, we were scrambling for our life jackets as hurricane-force winds stirred vicious seas.

Without proper preparation and a bit of luck, the day could've turned out much worse.

There's no doubt a trip to the lake or bay makes for a great day. But without proper planning or the right equipment, it can turn into a disaster in mere seconds.

It won't make the nightly news, but Saturday marks the start of the National Safe Boating Week. From now through the start of Memorial Day weekend, boating-related agencies throughout the nation will work overtime to remind boaters to be smart.

Here in the Keystone State, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is spreading the message.

"During National Safe Boating Week, and throughout the entire boating season, we are reminding boaters to practice safe and responsible boating. Always wear your life jacket, and be alert while on the water," said Laurel Anders, director of the commission's Bureau of Boating and Outreach. "By practicing these simple steps, you can save your life as well as the lives of the people boating with you."

Safe boating starts in a place we could all spend some more time, the mass of pink stuff between our ears known as our brain. If you hit the water without proper knowledge, you take a gamble.

While Pennsylvania does not require every boater to pass a safety course, the few hours it takes to get a basic education is time well spent. Even for the old salts, a quick review of the books is a good way to keep things fresh.

One thing everybody should know is life jackets save lives.

Across the country, nearly 700 people die in boating accidents. Nearly 80 percent of the folks killed were not wearing life jackets. In Pennsylvania, 11 boaters died in 2012 from boating accidents. Eight of them were not wearing life jackets.

The math doesn't lie. It's obvious. Before you hit the water, put on a life jacket.

Just like wearing a life jacket should be common sense, so should the idea that alcohol and boats don't mix. We all know the dangers of driving a car under the influence. But few folks realize alcohol's effects are even more drastic on the water. Sun, waves and inexperience make boating under the influence a deadly proposition.

The bottom line is you never know when trouble will strike on the water. If you aren't prepared, don't have the proper equipment or are too drunk to think straight, the odds are stacked against you.

It's not hard to stay safe and enjoy a day on the water. All it takes is knowledge and some planning.

Give water the respect it deserves.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york