Spring runoff, something some Montanan’s haven’t seen for awhile, is a reality again in parts of the state, fueled by good snowpack and above average rain.
“The higher spring flows are a welcome change, but the resulting high water makes this time of year especially dangerous for boaters and floaters” said Liz Lodman, FWP Boat Education Coordinator.
High water means swift, cold currents and dangerous eddies. Boaters heading out for the first time this season should ensure their boat and gear are in good order and that water and weather conditions are favorable.
“Boaters who have become accustomed to little or no spring runoff and lower flows throughout the summer need to be especially aware that the conditions they encountered last spring in a particular area may be very different this spring,” Lodman said.
"We had a high of 14 fatalities in 1996 and a low of five fatalities in 2001," said Lodman. "While the trend is positive, we’ve already had two boating fatalities in 2003 with the death of a couple fishing on a charter boat on Flathead Lake."
Boaters can improve their boating safety by following these life-saving tips:
· 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. 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 said. 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."Boating is almost always relaxing and fun," Lodman said. "But boating safety is never something to relax about."