Spring's melting snow packs and high water can create swift, cold currents and dangerous eddies for boaters. Such conditions, combined with ice cold waters, make hypothermia a serious threat.
Boaters heading out for the first time this season need to assess the condition of their boat and gear, and check to be certain they are equipped for the colder, early boating season.
"Most boaters know that spring is an especially dangerous time to be on the water, but each year experienced and inexperienced boaters find themselves in risky situations they just didn't anticipate," said Liz Lodman, Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Boating Safety Coordinator.
Here are some life-saving reminders for spring boaters:
* always wear a life jacket;
* observe no-wake rules and boat at a reasonable speed;
* always be on the watch for other boaters and swimmers;
* don’t mix alcohol or drugs and boating;
* review boating regulations before you go out; and
* take an approved boating safety course.
Boating fatality reports for Montana for the past couple of years show that more non-motorized boaters die in boating accidents than those in motorized boats, and that most accidents occur in the spring.
Another serious risk is hypothermia, which is a drastic drop in body temperature due to exposure to cold, wet conditions. Hypothermia is a year-round threat to boaters in Montana.
"A life jacket helps protect the body from heat loss for a period of time which is a significant benefit, but it will not prevent hypothermia over extended periods of exposure," Lodman said. "A life jacket cannot save someone in every circumstance, but more people would be alive today if they had worn one."
Montana’s boating laws require that a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket be available for each person on board a boat. Children under 12 years of age must wear their life jacket when aboard a boat under 26 feet in length. The life jacket must be in good condition and fit the intended wearer. Life jackets also have to be readily accessible.