If there’s one thing I love about summer, it’s the heat. Call me crazy, but growing up in Southern Idaho made me a desert rat. There’s nothing like heading out to a lake, river or creek on a hot day hanging out with a cold beer with your feet in the water.
It seems those dog days of summer are still a few weeks off, as the rain is finally catching up and the storms roll through in June. While I might not be headed to the lake just yet for a little swimming and summer fun, it is time to prep for the season.
Todd Tryne of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) explained that the Fourth of July season is usually pretty busy. They’ve seen an increase in usage over the last few years and while they haven’t investigated several drownings or collisions, it’s an issue they come across each year. Boaters end up speeding along to close to no wake zones, too close to boat ramps or docks and swimming areas. Trine explained that a no-wake zone is 200 feet.
Sometimes those Jet Skis can get a little too close to swimming areas. While it might seem like fun to give swimmers a little extra wake, sometimes it can be dangerous. Not knowing a swimmer’s ability, or even if there’s a swimmer under water, could cause some serious situations.
Last year in Idaho, I had to report on my first drowning death. It was tragic, a 16-year-old lost his life just feet away from the dock. It was a shock to the small rural community. A kid who had everything ahead of him went out with several friends to play on Jet Skis. He handed off his life vest as he jumped into the water to swim to the docks. He never made it. They were never sure of what the cause was. It could have been exhaustion, as they were out on the reservoir all day. His friends watched him go down, and not come back up.
It was an important lesson that unfortunately my kids had to witness, as we were out on the reservoir. The importance on a life jacket, especially on a long day out on the lake, shouldn’t be underestimated. Even the best swimmers can become exhausted. In Montana, children 12 years old are required to wear a life jacket if they’re on a boat.
Another issue that many may overlooked is the fact that driving a boat is just like driving a car. A cold beer on a hot day can hit the spot, but driving that boat while under the influence can be dangerous. With an increase in boats on the lake, a collision can happen. Unlike roadways, lakes don’t have lanes and rules. Boating under the influence is against the law. It’s charged just like driving under the influence in a car would be.
Other laws that Tryne noted the public should be aware of is that anyone being towed by another vehicle must be wearing a personal floatation device, two people must be on board a vessel for towing so one can observe while the other operates the vessel – this includes Jet Skis. There’s a no wake zone at the marinas, as buoyed or 300 feet at the docks or ramps. It’s 20 feet from a swimming area, 75 feet from anglers or waterfowl hunters, and 300 feet from another vessel crossing.
As I wait for the days of more sunscreen, less bug spray and more fun, it’s always good to brush up on some of those safety rules. Sometimes a little extra precaution can save a life, or save some trouble. Why ruin a perfectly good day, when it only takes five extra minutes to put on that life jacket, or an extra few minutes to find a designated driver.