Many Iowans are spending the Memorial Day holiday on the water and Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are hoping this boating season is a safer one than last year. Susan Stocker is the DNR’s boating law administrator and education coordinator. She says there were 32 boating “incidents” in Iowa in 2014 with seven fatalities. There have already been two fatal boating mishaps this year and one occurred this weekend.
Lake Okoboji in NW Iowa (File photo)
An Oskaloosa man was killed on Saturday when the boat he was operating overturned, throwing him and a passenger into Rathbun Lake. Fifty-year-old Gregory Williams was pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center in Centerville. The passenger was not seriously injured. Investigators say the boat rolled after making a sharp turn. Rough water caused by windy conditions may’ve contributed to the incident. On April 11, a Waldorf College student died when his small kayak overturned in a waterway in Hancock County.
National statistics show more than 8 out of 10 people who die from drowning in a boating accident were not wearing a life jacket. Stocker says even people who consider themselves to be a good swimmer should wear a life jacket. “When you’re in car, you don’t expect to get in a car accident, so we all wear our seatbelts because it’s required. In a boat, you don’t expect to get in a boating accident, but just like in a car, you won’t have time to put on a life jacket…and if you’re unconscious, you’ve got nothing,” Stocker says.
Iowa law requires children who are 12-and-under to wear a life jacket while the boat is in operation. Stocker says boating while intoxicated (BWI) arrests have been steadily declining in Iowa since 2011 when lawmakers lowered the legal limit for drunk boating to a blood-alcohol level of point-oh-eight (.08). “What we’re finding is people do have a designated driver,” Stocker says.
According to Stocker, a person’s senses and judgment are impacted even greater when they’re on a boat and drinking alcohol. “In a boat, you’ve got the wind, the waves and the glare…and the effects of one beer or one alcoholic beverage you might have on land is going to be double or triple when you’re on the water,” Stocker says. Nationally, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. It’s listed as the leading factor in nearly one-fourth of deaths in boat crashes.