It has been a particularly bad year for boating fatalities in Idaho, and authorities are taking no chances when it comes to safety on the water during the Labor Day weekend.
Sheriff’s departments are stepping up enforcement on the lakes in anticipation of the increased number of boaters.
In Kootenai County, “everybody will work,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger.
“We don’t have any extra bodies.”
“We’ll have at least three people out there and we may use reserves, too,” Ada County Sheriff’s Capt. Roy Holloway said.
It has been the worst year for boating fatalities in Idaho since 1989. Only six people died in 1996, but 15 already have died this year and Labor Day is the second-most-popular boating weekend.
Last weekend was the most recent fatality when a Spokane Valley man was killed in a collision between two Jetskis in Beauty Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“Most of the more serious boating accidents happen on the holiday weekends,” said Ann Van Buren, boating education coordinator for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. “Fourth of July is probably the worst weekend, but Labor Day is the last big weekend for those on summer vacation.”
Wolfinger said enforcement this weekend will be about the same as on the Fourth of July.
“I hope people just use their heads,” he said. “Have a good time, but do so in an appropriate manner.”
Alcohol has become an increasing factor in boat accidents, Van Buren said.
Drinking was involved in half of this year’s deaths. Failure to wear life jackets is the other major problem. Idaho law requires boaters to carry jackets for each passenger, but they do not have to wear them.
At least 10 of the victims were not.
“People in Idaho are very responsible about putting life jackets on their children, but most boating deaths are adults,” Van Buren said. “Life jackets are still the biggest barrier between life and death.”
A Puyallup, Wash., toddler left alone briefly along Lake Coeur d’Alene drowned earlier this month. She was not wearing a life jacket.
Following safety rules is even more important on rivers. Most sheriff’s departments patrol the banks, but do not have deputies on the water.
Most of the rivers are at medium to low flows now, but that does not mean they are necessarily easier to navigate, said Conrad Fourney of Headwaters River Co.
“At lower flows you’ll see a lot more rocks in places there weren’t rocks before,” Fourney said. “Be aware that if you haven’t been out here this summer the rapids have changed from last year.”
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