MADISON – The Department of Natural Resources reminds the public to include safety measures when planning activities near and in bodies of water. Be smart and stay aware because potential danger is often not visible to the human eye.

In Wisconsin, 89 percent of the 2019 boat fatalities were not wearing life jackets, the DNR said. 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. Four remain under investigation. The 10 confirmed incidents involved capsized vessels, falling overboard or the person voluntarily leaving the boat. Nine of the 10 people 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 in a news release. “These are painful reminders to remember your safety when you plan an outing that involves any Wisconsin waterbody.”

“When on, or even near, the water, always have an eye on safety. A life jacket can be the assurance your loved ones will make it home,” Krueger said. “Put on your life jacket before you get in the boat, or your canoe, or your kayak or paddleboard or wade along the shoreline. Keep it on until you get back to land. Once your life jacket is on, you can focus on the fun.”

Water safety tips

  • Enjoy the waters sober and know your limits: Alcohol blurs a person’s judgement, reaction time and abilities. If you are a poor swimmer sober, you are worse with alcohol in your 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 your sight and under the surface – and could put you 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 as you explore any shoreline. Life jackets will keep you on top of the water if you walk off an unexpected drop off, or a wave or current overpowers you or you fall out of a boat.
  • 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 where you are going.
  • 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 your safety is to just wear the life jacket.
  • More boat safety tips can be found here.

Take a safety class

It is easy to complete a safety class. They’re fun, quick and online – and more than worth your time. 

Find the right life jacket

Get your life jacket and plan your summer fun with recreational boating, paddling and swimming. More information about portable flotation devices can be found here.