The peak season for boating in Iowa usually begins with the Memorial Day weekend when tens of thousands of boats hit the water, many for the first time for the year.
Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is encouraging boaters to spend a few minutes going through the boat in their driveway to help avoid problems later on the ramp or water.
“As part of their preparation, boaters should go through their vessel as well as their safety equipment to make sure everything is in proper working condition before heading to the water, including brushing up on safe boating practices. It’s also a boat registration year so make sure the boat registration is current,” Stocker said. “We’re all excited to get our boats on the water, especially after the cold winter and cool and wet spring. No one wants the first trip to be cut short by something that could have easily been prevented.”
Lifejackets should be in good condition and the right size for each person onboard. Check the fire extinguisher, boat and trailer lights, whistle, and throwable floatation.
Boaters are reminded about the requirement that drain plugs and other water draining devices must be removed and/or remain open during transport to avoid spreading invasive species. Anglers leaving with fish are recommended to put them on ice, whether in a cooler, a bucket or a live well (plug must still be removed and/or opened).
Just like any party on land, boaters should plan ahead to have a designated sober operator that is cautious with speed and on the lookout for other vessels.
It would also help the boat operator to have a passenger watch for floating or submerged obstacles that may have washed in or shifted from spring rains and runoff.
“We promote safety on the water all year long, but especially in the spring when our boating skills may be a little rusty, and the water may be stained from spring rains and runoff that can hide obstacles just under the surface,” Stocker said.
The United States Geological Service provides real time stream flow information at https://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?r=ia&id=ww_current then select the stream.
In 2018, there were 32 reported boating incidents on Iowa waters: 17 of those were personal injury; 7 were property damage incidents and 8 resulted in fatalities.
Iowa has more than 231,000 registered boats.
Boating safety tips
- Wear your lifejacket - it floats, you don’t.
- Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Wind, sun glare and heat can enhance the effects of alcohol hindering the operator’s ability to make decisions.
- Check for open ramps or water hazards before heading out.
- Before leaving the house, check the trailer lights, wheel bearings and the hitch.
- Make sure there is a current fire extinguisher and horn/whistle, a wearable life jacket for everyone and a USCG approved flotation device onboard.
- File a float plan with a friend, including your destination, expected time of return and type of boat.
- Inflatable lifejackets are light weight, comfortable and USCG approved. Wear it.
- Take a boater education course available online at https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Boating/Boater-Education. It has valuable information and many insurance companies will offer a discount on boat insurance. Familiarize yourself with Iowa’s boating laws.
- Top two safety violations in Iowa are having inadequate life jackets and operating too fast and too close to other vessels.