Montanans have a greater chance this Memorial Day weekend of dying while boating than while driving a car, according to Liz Lodman, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Boat Education Coordinator. "There is a water-related fatality for every 3,500 registered boats in Montana. This is five times the national average," Lodman says.
Boaters can be safe by observing a few common sense rules: 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 and boating; review boating regulations before you go out; and take an approved boating safety course.
Boat 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. "In 2000, there were six boat fatalities, four on non-motorized boats," Lodman said. "Only two of the six victims were wearing life jackets."
Another year-round threat in Montana is hypothermia, the drastic drop in body temperature due to exposure to cold, wet conditions. "A life jacket helps protect the body from heat loss for a period of time which is an added benefit, though it can't prevent hypothermia over extended periods of exposure," Lodman says.
While a life jacket cannot save someone in every circumstance, 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.