WISCONSIN BOATING ACCIDENTS AND WATER SAFETY
Appleton Boat Accident Attorneys
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2013 reports, there are 614,399 registered boats in the state of Wisconsin. Especially during the summer months, these boats flood the over 15,000 lakes in the state of Wisconsin, and the water can get pretty crowded. Familiarizing yourself with the basic Wisconsin boating rules and safety tips can potentially help save your life and the lives of others.
Wisconsin Boating Safety Tips
Wisconsin DNR records show there were 87 boating accidents in 2013 that caused 66 injuries and 13 fatalities. Of the 13 people who died, nearly all drowned and were not wearing personal flotation devices. It is important to keep the following safety tips in mind when out on the water this summer:
- Check the weather forecast before you hit the water. Be aware of the local weather forecast and change your plans if a storm is in the forecast. If bad weather suddenly approaches while you are on a boat and cannot make it to the shore, duck down in the middle of the boat or head to the lowest level.
- Stay on top of boat maintenance. Be familiar with your boat and check it before each use to be sure it is functional and in water-safe condition. Also, make sure you have enough fuel and that all mechanical systems are working properly.
- Use proper safety equipment. Always wear a properly fitting life jacket, and supply all passengers, including children, with lifejackets. Also, be sure to carry any required or recommended safety equipment on board, such as additional personal flotation devices (PFDs), a VHF radio, boat hook, compass, first aid kit, flashlight, oars, or paddles, and a fire extinguisher.
- Don’t overload your boat. Be aware of your boat’s weight and occupant capacity. Occupancy standards are put into place for a reason. Following these guidelines can help prevent capsizing and passengers from falling overboard into the water.
- Watch out for swimmers. Always keep an eye out for swimmers and keep a safe distance away from any individual who is in the water, whether swimming or on rafts, personal watercraft, etc.
- Slow down when necessary. Make sure to operate your boat slowly and cautiously when within close proximity to any dock, pier, raft, or occupied anchored boat.
- Enroll in a boat safety course. Boat safety courses are designed to help prevent boat accidents and injuries, but the classes also prepare boaters to deal with any potential accidents or emergencies on the water. A Wisconsin Boating Safety Certificate is required for all boaters born after January 1, 1989, who operate a motorboat or personal watercraft (PWC) on Wisconsin waters. All boaters born after January 1, 1989, need to take the required boating safety class. Safety experts believe younger boaters are involved in fewer accidents due to the educational value of these courses.
- Watch children closely. When boating with children, make sure they are seated at all times and practice “touch supervision,” which means a supervising adult is within an arm’s length of the child being watched at all times, when near or in the water.
Wisconsin Boating Emergencies
A part of safe boating involves knowing how to effectively respond to a boating emergency should one occur. By taking the proper precautions ahead of time and educating yourself on the potential boating emergencies you could reduce your risk of serious injury and even death. It is important to familiarize yourself with these simple prevention and aftermath tips from the Wisconsin DNR regarding the following boat emergencies that could occur on the water:
In order to prevent an individual from falling overboard or to rescue a victim who has fallen in the water, it is important to follow these protections and steps:
- Don’t sit on the bow, seatbacks, motor cover, or any other part of the boat that was not made for seating.
- Don’t stand up in or lean out from the boat, especially when in motion.
- Don’t move about the boat when underway.
- If a passenger falls overboard, reduce your speed and toss the victim a PFD in the water.
- Turn your boat around and pull alongside the victim slowly, approaching the victim from downwind.
- Turn off the boat engine and pull the victim on board over the stern side of the boat, keeping the weight in the boat balanced.
What to Do When Your Boat Capsizes
To help decrease the risk of capsizing the following tips are crucial:
- Don’t overload the boat; make sure to balance the load evenly.
- Slow down the boat appropriately when turning.
- Secure the anchor line to the bow, not the stern of the boat.
- Avoid boating in rough waters or bad weather.
If your boat capsizes, the below steps may help prevent serious injury:
- Stay with the boat. Try to re-board in order to pull as much of your body out of the water as possible, especially during colder weather or evening hours.
- If your boat floats away, it is important to stay calm and wait for help. If you don’t have access to a PFD, look for another buoyant object you can use. If the water is cold, float rather than tread.
Hypothermia in Cold Water
If you decide to go boating during cold weather or within cold waters you should familiarize yourself with the basics of hypothermia prevention:
- Dress in multiple layers of clothing under your PFD or wear a wetsuit.
- Look out for the onset of symptoms of hypothermia, which include shivering with blue lips and nails. Symptoms can progress to as severe as a coma and eventually death if exposed to cold waters for a significant period of time.
How to reduce the effects of hypothermia:
- Wear a PFD to help you float and insulate your body.
- Remove as much of your body from the water as possible.
- Keep as many clothing items on as possible, as they can help provide insulation.
- Don’t thrash or tread too much, as excess motion consumes your body’s energy and escalates the loss of body heat.
- If you are in the cold water with other victims, huddle together with your arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders to help preserve heat.
Boating While Under the Influence in Wisconsin
Alcohol not only alters your judgment, but your vision, balance, and overall coordination. These mental and physical impairments increase the probability of accidents on the water for both passengers and boat operators. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, individuals operating a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over .08 are 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than someone driving a boat while sober.
In 2013, the Wisconsin DNR reported that 8 percent of boat operators were under the influence of alcohol during an accident. According to Wisconsin Statute 30.681, the legal blood-alcohol limit for operating a boat is .08. Boaters with a BAC level above the Wisconsin state limit of .08 can be arrested for boating under the influence (BUI). Additionally, individuals under the age of 21 cannot be intoxicated at all when operating a boat or recreational water vehicle. Throughout the course of 2013, 241 BUI citations were recorded in Wisconsin.
Penalties for Boating While Intoxicated in Wisconsin
The potential penalties for a Wisconsin BUI include fines, jail time, and alcohol/drug assessment, or participation in a boating safety course. More specifically, first-time offenders can see a fine of between $150-300 for operating a boat while intoxicated or violating the refusal law. Second-time offenders who violate the law within 5 years prior to the arrest for the current violation or who have been convicted one time previously under the intoxicated boating law or the refusal law will be fined between $300-$1,000 and can be imprisoned for up to 6 months. For third offenses and beyond, the fines and jail time significantly increase based on the offense.
If an intoxicated boater causes personal injury, according to Wisconsin Statute 30.681(2) they shall be fined between $300-$2,000 and can be imprisoned between 30 days and one year in county jail.
Wisconsin’s Operation Dry Water
In order to help prevent BUIs and boating accidents, Wisconsin’s Operation Dry Water program has increased patrols and brought more attention to boater education and water safety.
Operation Dry Water focuses on spreading awareness of the dangers and consequences of boating while under the influence. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators launched Operation Dry Water back in 2009. The program helps place thousands of local, state, and federal marine law enforcement officers on lakes and rivers nationwide during the last weekend in June each year. This initiative gives boating while intoxicated laws and enforcement higher visibility during the height of the summer boating season.
Contact an Appleton Boat Accident Attorney
The experienced Appleton personal injury lawyers at Herrling Clark Law Firm, Ltd. have successfully assisted clients who were involved in water and boat accidents on several Wisconsin lakes, including Lake Winnebago, Fox River, Wolf River, Bay of Green Bay, Lake Michigan, and the Chain-O-Lakes. If you have been involved in a boating or jet-ski accident in Wisconsin and are seeking legal guidance, contact Herrling Clark Law Firm, Ltd. today by calling 920-739-7366 or fill out the online contact form to set up an initial consultation.