How to prevent disasters on the water

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:52 PM CDT
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WALL LAKE TOWNSHIP, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner, marking the unofficial start to the summer for many who love being out on the water.

With a sunny and warm forecast, the area’s lakes and rivers are likely to be crowded with people boating, fishing, skiing, tubing, and kayaking for the first time in months.

The waves crashing, the sun kissing your skin, and the wind blowing through your hair — It could all bring your brain into a state of euphoria while on the boat. And while that is awesome, it could also lead to awful things.

“You have all these different environmental factors that can impact your level to focus, to concentrate,” said Veronica Hawman, Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s regional executive director for Minnesota and the Dakotas. “You can easily get tired, and if you’re intoxicated, all that can get really bad really quickly.”

Alcohol is commonly the leading cause of boating accidents and deaths, according to the United States Coast Guard. In 2022, there were over 100 fatal boating accidents due to drinking, accounting for 16 percent of total fatalities on American waterways.

This is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving is teaming up with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to remind people that drinking and driving risks — and laws — apply to water vehicles the same way they do to roads.

The legal blood alcohol limit for operating a water vessel in South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota is .08 — the same as driving on the road in all three states. Penalties for a first offense may include jail time, $1,000 or more in fines, and the temporary loss of one’s boating license.

MADD is advising all water enthusiasts, especially boaters, to have a safety plan in case of an emergency. That starts with the boats’ driver not consuming any alcohol.

”And when they get off the boat, if they do decide to drink, to make sure they have a designated driver before they go to their next destination,” Hawman said.

Sanford Child Services in Sioux Falls recommends each boat to also have a passenger that is a designated water watcher. It is an especially crucial role if there are children on board.

”Making sure that they keep their hands and feet on the boat at all times (and) making sure they’re not running on the boat,” said Nancy Raether, the community programs coordinator for Sanford Child Services.

Making sure children have extra sunscreen and extra water is also a pivotal checkpoint for parents and guardians before the boat leaves the dock.

The skin of a child burns faster than adults. The smaller the body, the greater risk of dehydration. Kids also become cold more easily than adults, so dry towels should be immediately ready for them when they get back in the boat after taking a dip, Raether said.

“Sometimes when you’re enjoying yourself out on a boat or in the lake, you might not be as mindful of people in the boat with you, especially kids,” Raether said.

Hawman and Raether each said that the most important life-saving tool anyone out on the water can have is a life jacket. They come in all sizes to fit anyone of any age.

“You might think that because a car seat is safe for a child to ride in while they’re in the car, that they could possibly ride in the boat on a car seat,” Raether said. “That is not the safest option.”

This all may seem like “Captain Obvious” advice, and yet, there is another crowded place on these holiday weekends that is full of people who don’t follow the advice — the emergency room.

And that is no day at the beach.

“We want people to be mindful of the dangers so that when they go out there to have fun, it is fun, and it does not end in tragedy,” Hawman said.