CEDAR RAPIDS — Weather permitting, Iowa’s boating season will get underway over the long Memorial Day weekend, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expecting tens of thousands of boaters to hit the water, many for the first time this year.
Before they do, Susan Stocker of the DNR is encouraging them to take a few minutes to make sure they are ready — from the taillights on their boat trailers to the onboard safety equipment required by Iowa law.
“As part of their preparation, boaters should go through their vessel as well as their safety equipment to make sure everything is in proper working condition before heading to the water, including brushing up on safe boating practices,” said Stocker, DNR boating law administrator and education coordinator.
“We’re all excited to get our boats on the water, especially after the cold winter and cool and wet spring,” Stocker said. “No one wants the first trip to be cut short by something that could have easily been prevented.”
She’s also reminding Iowa’s 231,000 boaters that 2019 is a boat registration year so they need to make sure their registration is current.
And most importantly, Stocker is encouraging safety on the water. In 2018, there were 32 reported boating incidents on Iowa waters. Seventeen were personal injury incidents, seven were property damage incidents and eight resulted in fatalities.
On the national level, about 19 percent of the fatalities involve alcohol. However, half or more of the boating fatalities on Iowa waters in recent years have involved alcohol, said Stocker who spent 10 of her 25 years with the DNR as a conservation officer.
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Conservation officers are trained in detecting when boater are intoxicated. In addition to obvious signs, such as coming too close to another boat, they look for signs of impairment when checking boats for registrations, life jackets and other requirements.
“It’s all about educating the public because even though everyone is surrounded by water people usually don’t drink water so they become dehydrated very, very fast,” Stocker said. “Then you add the sun, the glare from the water, the wind and it enhances the effects of alcohol by almost three times.”
The top two safety violations in Iowa are having inadequate life jackets and operating too fast and too close to other vessels, Stocker said. Life jackets should be in good condition and the right size for each person on board. Check the fire extinguisher, boat and trailer lights, whistle or horn, and throwable flotation.
She encourages boaters to have a designated sober operator who is cautious with speed and on the lookout for other vessels.
It would also help the boat operator to have a passenger watch for floating or submerged obstacles that may have washed in or shifted from spring rains and runoff, Stocker said.
Safety tips for boating
• Wear your lifejacket — it floats, you don’t.
• Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Wind, sun glare and heat can enhance the effects of alcohol hindering the operator’s ability to make decisions.
• Check for open ramps or water hazards before heading out.
• Before leaving the house, check the trailer lights, wheel bearings and the hitch.
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• Make sure there is a current fire extinguisher and horn/whistle, a wearable life jacket for everyone and a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device onboard.
• File a float plan with a friend or family member who’s not onboard, including your destination, expected time of return and type of boat.
• Inflatable life jackets are light weight, comfortable and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Wear them.
• Take a boater education course available online at iowadnr.gov/things-to-do/boating/boater-education. It has valuable information, and many insurance companies will offer a discount on boat insurance.
• Familiarize yourself with Iowa’s boating laws.
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