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How to Stay Safe on the Water This Summer

From Deer Creek to Jordanelle to Strawberry to Rockport to Echo; the Heber Valley and surrounding areas have plenty of opportunities for boating and water sports. But before you go out on the water this summer, make sure that you know how to keep yourself and those around you safe.

The lakes and reservoirs attract many different kinds of recreational watercraft, both motorized and non-motorized. Recently, sports such as wake surfing, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards have increased in popularity. Motorized boats, fishermen, kayaks, and even sailboats and swimmers, share the same water. Everyone can stay safe if they educate themselves, follow the rules, and most importantly, wear a life jacket.

Wear A Life Jacket

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80% of boating fatality victims. 75% of fatal boating accidents result from drowning and 86% of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

There are many different types of life jackets, but the best type of life jacket is the one that you will wear. Make sure the life jacket is Coast Guard approved. A life jacket needs to be in good condition, fit well, and be sized properly according to age and weight. Read the label on the life jacket for any restrictions and proper care.

Ty Hunter, the boating program manager for the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation, says, “Some of the most simplistic decisions can determine the most life-altering outcomes.” The best practice is to always wear your life jacket, even when you are not required by law to do so.

Children 12 and younger are required to wear a life jacket when a boat is in operation, and there needs to be a wearable life jacket for each person on board a boat. However, Devon Chavez, the public affairs manager for Utah State Parks, says, “We recommend EVERYONE wear a life jacket, even if they are experienced adults.”

Hunter notes that there is a huge issue with not wearing an approved life jacket when operating a paddle craft or in towed sports. Utah requires that each person being towed on water skis or other devices or operating a personal watercraft wear an appropriate life jacket.

Wearing A Life Jacket Can Save Your Life, So Make It The First Priority When Heading Out To The Water.

Take A Boating Safety Course And Keep Learning

Hunter encourages everyone to take a boating safety course. Even those who have been boating their whole lives don’t know everything. A boating safety course can help teach you how to stay safe.

Utah offers courses for adults ages 17 and older and a mandatory youth personal watercraft certification for ages 12-17. The certification is required for youth operating personal watercraft such as Jet Skis, Wave Runners, and Sea-Doos. Courses cost $39.95 and are simple and easy. Make sure you review the study material before taking the test. Boating safety courses can be found at boating.utah.gov. In addition, Hunter recommends that all operators of motorized and non-motorized watercraft read Utah’s Boating Law Highlights found under Rules & Regulations, also at boating.utah.gov

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources offers an aquatic invasive species education course that is required for boaters who are not residents of Utah and is voluntary for Utah residents. Mussels threaten Utah water bodies, and it is important to educate yourself to stop the spread.

Follow The Speed And Proximity Law

Hunter states that boaters need to pay special attention to the speed and proximity law. A vessel that is above wakeless speed should not be driven within 150 feet of another vessel, a water-skier towed by another vessel, a downed water-skier, a shore fisherman, a launch ramp, a dock, or designated swimming areas. When boaters adhere to this law, they prevent collisions, injuries, and reduce conflicts.

Boaters can be courteous by placing even more than 150 feet between themselves and other boats while above a wakeless speed. Hunter says that wakeless speed is still wakeless speed, even if you are late or want to get through an area quickly.

With another drought year, Chavez notes that there is going to be less overall boatable water in Utah’s reservoirs, so it’s even more important to remember the speed and proximity rule and to respect each other’s space.

No Boating Under The Influence

Do not operate a boat while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

While alcohol is allowed on boats, it is illegal to drink and drive. Chavez says that boating under the influence is no different than driving a car under the influence; they are both illegal and the same penalties apply. If a boater operates under the influence, they can face fines, license suspension, possible jail time, and their boat could be impounded. Anyone operating a motorboat on Utah’s water has given consent to take a field sobriety test when requested by an officer who feels the person may be operating under the influence.

Boaters need to remember to drink alcohol responsibly. Passengers on boats who choose to drink need to figure out how they are getting home before they start drinking.

Know The Dangers

Boating can be dangerous. Boaters often lack knowledge of laws and basic safety information. And when boaters have been boating for a long time, their actions can become repetitive and complacent and they forget to take appropriate steps to stay safe.

Before going boating, you should learn about the specific body of water, particularly the water levels, lake conditions, and weather forecasts. Hunter explained that with varying water levels, a boater might have passed through a spot yesterday, but may not be able to pass over it today. Underwater hazards may exist, so boaters need to use caution.

Weather can change rapidly. Be aware of changing conditions to stay safe. But even when the weather is perfect for boating, accidents can still happen, so remember to wear your life jacket, pay attention and make good decisions.

Prevent Drowning

Hunter shared that he has been involved in searches and recoveries of too many drowning victims. He has seen individuals, who enter the water voluntarily for a short swim or to recover a hat or other article blown from the shore or the boat, fail to resurface. Others have gone to assist someone in need while not wearing a life jacket. The decisions are often made without thought. But lakes are not swimming pools, where there is a wall nearby and a lifeguard to assist you if you get into trouble. Distances in open water are greater than they look, and the water can be cold; stealing your body heat.

Hunter suggests that if you are going to assist someone, try basic water rescue methods first: reach, throw, row and go. Do not jump in the water without a life jacket, as people without life jackets have drowned trying to save someone.

Prevent Other Injuries And Accidents

There are other ways to prevent injuries and accidents on the water. Utah State Parks’ boating website lists additional things to know before you go boating:

Be aware of where passengers are. You can’t go faster than wakeless speed with passengers sitting on bow ducking, gunwales, seatbacks, or the motor cover.

Tow people safely. The person being towed must wear a life jacket. You must have an observer in addition to the boat operator and you must display a 12” x 12” flag when the tow is finished. Tow only between sunrise and sunset. It is also prohibited to tow a person in a non-standing position within 20 feet of the back of the boat.

Be aware of carbon monoxide and propeller injury. Don’t spend time on the back of the boat while the engine is running. Turn the propeller off when there are people around.

If you are involved in a boating accident, help others, exchange contact information, notify law enforcement, don’t leave the scene, and submit an accident report.

Take Care Of Yourself

In the heat of summer, you can easily become dehydrated, so remember to drink plenty of water while on the lake. And always be aware that any boating trip can be dangerous. Wear your life jacket. Watch out for any hazards. Be courteous to others. By making safe decisions, you can stay safe and enjoy the water this summer.

Boating safety courses can be found at boating.utah.gov


What to do if you need to rescue someone in the water:

Reach. The first step to assist a victim who is having trouble in the water is to reach, by extending something like a fishing rod or an oar towards them and then pulling them to safety.

Throw. If the victim is too far away, you can throw a personal flotation device. Boats 16-39 feet in length must carry at least one throwable PFD, and vessels more than 40 feet must carry at least two throwable PFDs.

Row. You can row towards the
victim to get closer to help them.

Go. Get help. If you do not have lifesaving training, you should not try to swim to a victim. If you do go into the water, make sure you are wearing a life jacket and take something that floats to keep between you and the victim.