This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The accident that claimed the lives of four boaters at Bear Lake late Monday during a storm should be a wake-up call for boaters to make certain they are ready for the coming season.
"Summer is here," said Utah Division of Parks and Recreation boating coordinator Ty Hunter. "We need to make sure we have safety on our minds. We have got to be safe."
Boat accidents claim lives nearly every year in Utah. According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, 10 Utah boaters died in 2010, eight in 2011 and 2012, 12 in 2013 and five in 2014.
Hunter said that the Bear Lake deaths occurred on the Idaho side, so they will not count on Utah statistics. So far in 2015, one Utah boater has died. A fisherman died in March on Willard Bay.
Hunter said that those who died in the Bear Lake accident were wearing life jackets.
"I am not sure the length of time they were in the water [which was 53 degrees]," he said. "With hypothermia, if you are in over an hour, you are prone to exposure. Also, you could perhaps pin this on being a drowning, even with a life jacket on, in heavy waves. Without being there and seeing what is there, I can't give the full explanation. It looks like hypothermia is a high potential for all of them, but there is a potential [for] drowning."
Hunter said that when wind and bad weather moves into a big lake such as Bear Lake, Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake, Lake Powell or Flaming Gorge, the safest thing to do is to find land as soon as possible.
"You can ride storms out on a boat, but you need to know what you are doing," Hunter said. "On a larger lake with bigger bays open, storms can turn violent quickly. You need to be aware of those conditions and get out. If you see any changes in weather conditions such as big cloud bank building up, you need to go to the closest and safest marina or harbor that you can to provide shelter for you and those you have on your boat. ... The accidents we see, people tell us 'We thought we could get in one more ski or catch one more fish before the storm, but it came on us so quickly.' "
Hunter stressed that his heart went out to the families involved in the accident.
"We hope we can try to prevent more accidents like this in the future," he said.
"Boaters need to know about the weather, have safety gear, life jackets and a throwable device," Hunter said. "They should have a fire extinguisher, a spare paddle and a bail bucket They need to know the signs of a weather pattern by kind of looking at it. We will get monsoonal storms in the later portion of the summer. ... People need to know about lightning safety or have a simple whistle device to help attract the attention of people around them."
Hunter said boaters looking to refresh their safety knowledge can log on to http://www.boating.utah.gov and hit the education tab. They can take a free online education course to learn the basics of boating. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers a seamanship course.
Safe Boating Checklist
Be Weather Wise: Always check local weather conditions before departure. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile or rough, changing winds, or sudden drops in temperature, play it safe by getting off the water.
Follow a Pre-Departure Checklist: Proper boating safety means being prepared for any possibility on the water. From compliance with fire safety regulations to tips for fueling up. Following a pre-departure checklist is the best way to make sure no boating safety rules or precautions have been forgotten.
Use common sense. This means always operating at a safe speed. Be alert at all times and steer clear of large vessels and watercraft that can be restricted in their ability to stop or turn. Also, respect buoys and other navigational aids.
Designate an assistant skipper: Make sure more than one person on board is familiar with all aspects of your boat's handling, operations, features and safety tips. If the primary navigator is injured or incapacitated in any way, it's important to make sure someone else can follow the property boating rules to get everyone back to shore.
Develop a float plan. Whether you choose to inform a family member or the staff at your local marina, always be sure someone else knows your float plan. That should include where you are going and how long you are going to be gone.
Make proper use of life jackets. The majority of people who have drowned in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets. Make sure your family and friends stay safe by assigning and fitting each person on board with a life jacket prior to departure.
Avoid alcohol. Boat safely at all times by saving the alcohol for later. The probability of being involved in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved and studies have shown that the effect of alcohol is exacerbated by external factors such as sun and wind.
Learn to swim. If you are going to be in and around the water, proper boating safety means knowing how to swim.
Take a boating course. Both beginning and experienced boaters need to be familiar with boating safety rules. There are online courses and information on the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation website. Go to http://www.boat-ed.com/Utah.
Consider a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard and its auxiliary organizations offer complimentary boat examinations to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations.