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So You Think You're Safe On The Water?

Recreation News

Wed Jun 20 16:23:00 MDT 2012

With Montana's boating season at full throttle, a lot of people are on the state's waters hoping to enjoy themselves for the day. Sadly for some it may end badly.

No one likes to be a 'downer,' just when everyone else is ready to have fun, but Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wardens who patrol the state's waters often find themselves in that role.

" It is usually so easy—wear a properly fitting life jacket at all times and you will live to be on the water another day," said Ron Jendro, FWP boating enforcement and recreational boating safety administrator.

Jendro said all too often this simple advice is ignored with tragic consequences.

"FWP wardens are the first to emphasize water safety because they see the tragic situations and consequences of bad judgment first hand," Jendro said. "When you see what can happen on the water, you would do anything to spare others from these situations."

Here are some of the stories of accidents on the water that FWP wardens tell.

"I worked a boating fatality where a nice boat ride and swim turned tragic in just seconds," said FWP warden Jack Austin of Miles City. "A group on a rented pontoon boat, stopped in the middle of the lake on a nice, hot August day to allow a few of them to swim."

A slight breeze came up, pushing the pontoon boat a short distance away from the swimmers. One swimmer quickly became exhausted and started having trouble staying up.

"Because they were unfamiliar with the boat, the remaining occupants could not start it," Austin said. "In their panic they didn't think to look for the Type IV throwable floatation device stowed under the seat to toss it to the struggling swimmer."

"Despite the other swimmers' attempts to help, the exhausted swimmer didn't make it," he said.

Other boaters also live to regret their actions for different reasons.

"I stopped a boat on the Tongue River Reservoir last summer that was operating erratically at night at high speed with no navigation lights in a no-wake zone," said Mike Krings, FWP Warden in Miles City.

"About 10 people were aboard, three under the age of 12 and none of them wearing life jackets," he said. "The boater driver went to jail for driving under the influence, boating under the influence, and criminal endangerment."
Ironically, other sober adults were aboard.

On the Big Horn River near Hardin a boater made a simple mistake that resulted in major damage. Warden Regan Dean of Butte saw this angler fishing out of his jet boat with the anchor down.

"The current was strong enough to push the boat along slowly with the anchor dragging, until the anchor caught on some rocks, stopping the boat. It quickly filled with water and capsized," Dean said.

The anglers and their dog escaped, but air trapped under the overturned boat made it act like a big suction cup.

"We returned the next day with come-a-longs and ropes to turn the boat over and bail it out, but the motor was destroyed from dragging along the rocks on the river bottom," Dean said. "It was a good training day for us, not such a good day for the boat owner."

Warden Wendy Kamm of Fort Benton said she will never forget the parent of an eight week old baby she came across on the Missouri River's Wild and Scenic river stretch. The wind was blowing up huge white-capped waves, but the mother was not wearing a life jacket.

"She just held a huge life jacket up that would fit over her and the baby," Kamm said. "The child's life jacket was laying in the bottom of the canoe—it was sized for a five year old."

Had the canoe tipped over the infant would not have had a chance of surviving.

"Kids under 12 must have a properly fitting life jacket on at all times when a vessel is in motion—and that includes on the river current, anchored or drifting," Kamm said.

For more on boating and recreation safety, go to the FWP website at on the Recreation page.