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Water safety always starts with a life jacket

With more than 15,000 lakes, and 84,000 miles of rivers and streams, thousands of Wisconsinites, and visitors, flock to shorelines for a chance to get on the water. But what makes for a fun activity, can also quickly turn dangerous.

In Wisconsin, 89 percent of the 2019 boat fatalities, were not wearing life jackets. Nationwide, that statistic from national groups is more than 90 percent.

So far this year, the DNR has documented 14 deaths related to boating activity, with four remaining under investigation. The 10 confirmed incidents involved capsized vessels, falling overboard or the individual voluntarily leaving the boat.

In those cases, nine of the 10 individuals were not wearing life jackets. In one case, the victim had a jacket on – but it was incorrectly secured.

“Our hearts break for the families and friends of those who don’t make it home,” said DNR Chief Conservation Warden Casey Krueger. “These are painful reminders to remember your safety when you plan an outing that involves any Wisconsin waterbody.”

The DNR reminds the public to include safety measures when planning activities near, and in, bodies of water. Water safety tips stem from a foundational belief of having respect for the rivers and lakes, and their shores. Be smart and stay aware, because potential danger is often not visible to the human eye.

Life jackets will keep a person on top the water if walking off an unexpected drop-off, a current overpowers or when falling out of a boat. Putting on a life jacket before wading, playing along shores or getting in a boat, gets the wearer ready to focus on the fun.

“There are jackets designed for various sports,” said DNR recreation Warden Jason Roberts. “The notion that you can put it on as an emergency is happening, is unrealistic. Things can go wrong in an instant.

Wardens have responded to numerous drowning deaths, only to find a life jacket stuffed inside a kayak or floating near the capsized canoe. Or, in some cases, the person voluntarily leaves the vessel without a jacket and fails to make it back.

Those on the water should use the following safety tips:

• Enjoy the waters sober and know limits. Alcohol blurs a person’s judgment, reaction time and abilities. If someone is a poor swimmer sober, they are worse with alcohol in the system.

• River shorelines and sandbars pose unseen dangers. Higher, fast-moving water also can tax an individual’s boating, paddling and swimming skills. What may look like a flat, inviting river or stream, may disguise a fast-moving current pulling debris out of sight and under the surface – and could put the person in danger without a lot of warning.

• Rivers present continually changing conditions – most often choreographed by the ever-changing currents. Currents are powerful forces that can reconfigure shorelines, carry and hide debris, and construct or destroy sandbars that otherwise look solid.

• Wear a life jacket when exploring any shoreline.

• Waves and currents can overpower a person of any size. Currents not easily noticeable standing on the shore, can be strong enough to overpower a person and make even the strongest of swimmers unable to swim against it.

• Keep an eye on the weather and let someone know the day’s plans.

• Paddleboarders should be competent swimmers and need to wear a life jacket. Wisconsin and U.S. Coast Guard law, treats paddleboards the same as kayaks and canoes. This means there must be a personal flotation device for each person on board. However, the best way to obey this law and to ensure safety, is to just wear the life jacket.

It is easy to complete a safety class. They’re fun, quick and online. Get a life jacket and plan summer fun with recreational boating, paddling and swimming.