With a hot and humid summer comes many opportunities for boaters to set sail throughout the state of Iowa. While for some boating has long been a part of their lives, for others, heading out with family and friends this summer could represent their first time on a boat. Whether sailing on Saylorville Lake, Okoboji or other bodies of water throughout Iowa, experienced boaters Mike Slatterly and Mark Hashek have provided a few tips on how to be safe when navigating the open water.
Currently, the state of Iowa does not require a boater over the age of 18 to be licensed before operating a boat, putting even more emphasis on the importance of boat safety. Many experienced boaters compare learning to drive a boat to that of a car or motorcycle, and stress that it is important to learn the ins and outs of both the water and the boat before leaving the dock.
“My advice to new boaters is to go with someone who has been boating before. Make sure you understand the rules of the water, and make sure you understand how your boat works,” longtime boater Mark Hashek said. “It’s like a car. Watch out for other boaters just as much as you would watch out for yourself.”
In addition, before leaving the dock, each boat must contain the required safety equipment. This includes the correct number of life jackets sized correctly for each passenger on the boat, knowing that anyone under the age of 13 not below deck or in an enclosed cabin must have a life jacket on at all times, and that those intending to participate in water sports, such as water skiing, may require a Type V life jacket instead of a Type 1 or 2.
Each boat must also have a throwable device, fire extinguisher, noise-producing device and some form of communication (radio or phone).
“Have a plan put together. Make sure you have all your safety equipment. And, make sure you have some sort of communication if you run into any trouble and need an anchor,” Saylorville Lake Marina and Red Rock Marina General Manager Mike Slatterly said.
Boaters are also strongly encouraged to consider weather as an important factor before going out on the water.
“The biggest thing to be conscious of is the weather. Make sure you understand the weather before you even leave. It can be hit or miss. We may have storms or we may not,” Slatterly said.
Slatterly also pointed out that while always a concern, severe storms can significantly increase the amount of debris throughout the water even well after the storm has passed through. This is something that has been particularly a concern after the recent flash flooding and thunderstorms that have taken place this past month.
When such storms occur, boaters are encouraged to be conscious of this not only when determining whether to go out on the water, but also when determining whether to participate in activities such as water skiing or tubing.
“Right now the lake is on the way down and most of that debris is being pushed out. It’s just being conscious, keeping your eyes open and being responsible,” Slatterly said.
When it came to water skiing, tubing and other related activities, Hashek also had a few additional safety tips for both drivers and passengers.
“If you are water skiing, make sure you are doing it so that you are not around other boaters. If you fall, they could be there. Typically you’ll see a lot of inexperienced boaters doing that, not thinking that if their skier falls off that they might not be able to get to people quick enough,” Hashek said.
However, out of all the talk of boat safety, both boaters seemed to circle around to one key piece of advise; know your surroundings.
“To me, it’s just being cautious and knowing your surroundings. I’ve been around the water all my life but still at any point something could happen. You never know what’s under the water that you can’t see,” Hashek said.
“When there is a lot of people on the lake, you need to be watching out not just for yourself, but for other people around you. Be aware of other people falling off their tubes. Make sure you’re keeping an eye on your passengers so they don’t get themselves in trouble. Be aware of your surroundings,” Slatterly added.
Those interested in learning more regarding boat safety can always check out the DNR for online courses. In addition, the Saylorville Lake Marina also hosts courses provided by a third party throughout the spring.
“It’s very very enjoyable to be on the water. Be responsible. Have fun. And operate at a responsible speed. Just because a boat can go 50 miles an hour doesn’t mean it should go 50 miles an hour,” Slatterly said.