Be Prepared and Cast Off!

When my husband and I cast off from the dock, the first thing I notice is the crisp air and pitter patter of the water moving with the side of the boat. There is a certain peace of mind I find on the lake that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Watching the land behind us become smaller until the only thing we see is crystal clear blue water reminds me of the beauty of our state and how lucky we are to live here.

This year has been an especially busy time on the water. More boats and more traffic on every lake in the district from Lake Superior to our many smaller in land lakes. These observations are not just anecdotes: according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, boat sales rose 12% in 2020. This surge resulted in 415,000 first-time boat buyers. Knowing how important boating is to the tourist economy of the Northland, I am thrilled to see so many people engaging in this fun and relaxing hobby.

Yet as fun as boating can be, there is a fair bit of risks associated with the activity that warrants serious attention. Unfortunately, as Wisconsin’s waters have become more crowded, boating accidents and fatalities are on the rise. This year alone, Wisconsin has recorded 16 boating deaths, according to the DNR. That is a 30% increase from last year’s total. This is a troubling trend that needs immediate attention. Let’s look at how it happens: operator inexperience, inattention, recklessness and speeding are the four leading causes of watercraft crashes, and the leading cause of death is drowning. The most concrete actions you can take to ensure the safety of yourself and passengers involves planning, communication, discretion, and above all, life jackets.

First and foremost, it is important to develop a float plan. For extended voyages, be sure to give someone your float plan. This plan is a list with your name, address, and phone number, boat type and registration information, trip itinerary, and types of communication and signal equipment onboard. Give this list to a friend or family member. For shorter trips, simply letting someone know where you are going is sufficient to ensure your safety. Second, designate an assistant skipper. Make sure there is someone else on your boat who is familiar with how the vessel operates. Third, take a boater safety course. These courses can be completed online and are offered by the DNR at www.boat-ed.com/wisconsin/. And finally, no matter what, wear a life jacket. The reality is, most people who drown are good swimmers but during an accident, they become incapacitated, injured, unconscious, exhausted or weighed down by clothing.

My message to boaters everywhere is to enjoy themselves. We have the tools and the expertise at our disposal to curb these trends and make the waters safer for everyone. Our lakes have so much to offer, so let’s enjoy them together.