MADISON – Anglers who fish the May 2 opening day of Wisconsin’s inland fishing season can make sure their first trip of the season isn’t their last by following a few safe boating tips, recreation safety experts say.
Cold water, unpredictable weather, debris in the water and high river flows all require special precautions during the early season, says Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, recreation safety chief for the Department of Natural Resources.
“Wearing a life jacket is the most important precaution you can take,” Schaller says. “It will keep you afloat and help you retain body heat.”
People lose body heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air, and hypothermia can occur in any water less than 70 degrees, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
More information about hypothermia, more safety tips, and links to boating safety course information and videos can be found on the Boat Safely in Wisconsin page of the DNR Web site.
Dam Safety Awareness Week April 26-May 2
Schaller and Meg Galloway, DNR dam safety chief, also advise boaters to be particularly cautious this spring around the 3,800 dams on Wisconsin rivers and streams. DNR is joining with the Midwest Hydro Users Group and Wisconsin Public Service to mark Dam Safety Awareness Week April 26 – May 2.
Two of the 20 boating fatalities in Wisconsin last year involved a dam. Two men drowned when their boat capsized when they got too near the water cascade below an open dam on the Wisconsin River in Marathon County.
“People always need to be cautious around dams because of the tricky currents and rapidly changing conditions, but anglers and boaters need to be especially cautious in spring because of the high flows from melting snow and rain and the cold water temperatures,” Galloway says. “Entering an area near the dam that was safe in low flows may put you at higher risk of an accident during high flows, and the cold water will limit your ability to react and your survival time.”
In addition to wearing a life jacket, the other name top spring boating safety tips are:
- Tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Test your boat and ensure that all equipment is there and working before launching.
- Dress in layers that can be peeled off and put back on as the temperature dictates.
- Watch carefully for branches and other debris carried into the water by snowmelt or runoff and avoid anything that appears to be floating on the water.
- Be aware that river water levels will be higher and currents faster in spring, and boat within your capabilities.
- Be aware of weather conditions before leaving shore, and keep track of them while on the water. Take along a weather radio or regular radio or tune into the marine band's weather channel.
- Return to shore if a steady increase in wind or thick dense clouds signal approaching storms.
- If you end up on the water, stay with your boat and try to pull yourself up on it since the air temperature is likely warmer than the water.
Take these safety precautions when around dams:
- Observe all barriers, flashing lights, horns and sirens.
- Leave your boat motor running to provide maneuvering power.
- Stay clear of spillways; changing currents and "boiling" waves can make boat control difficult near dams.
- Never anchor boats below a dam because water levels can change rapidly.