Two possible water fatalities in Wisconsin puts emphasis on boat - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Two possible water fatalities in Wisconsin puts emphasis on boat safety in the Eau Claire area


Wisconsin (WQOW) - Spring has been deadly for Wisconsin boaters across the state, with two possible fatalities that happened over the weekend.

Monday marked the third day Winnebago County crews were searching for a missing boater, and in Vernon County, 52-year-old James Freeman of Lansing, Iowa, drowned Friday night after his boat capsized and went under a dam on the Mississippi River. Authorities said Freeman's death could have been avoided if he was wearing a life jacket. Vernon County Sheriff John Spears said the man had a life jacket on the boat and was trying to put it on when the boat overturned and he was pulled under water.

While Wisconsin law only requires having a life jacket on the boat for each person, boating safety instructors said they should always be worn on the water. 

"They are like seat belts in a car," said John Swenson, a volunteer boating safety instructor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "You hope you are never in a position where you have to use it, but if you do, you are glad you have it."

Swenson said Wisconsin is one of two states that does not require life jackets on children, but federal law requires anyone under the age of 13, above deck on a boat, to have a life jacket on federal waters. Swenson said people can lower their risk on the water by knowing the legal requirements of having a boat on the water, understanding what to do in an emergency, knowing the boat and what it can handle and being familiar with the body of water. He said dams can be dangerous with strong currents, and there could be dangers put in place by nature. 

"Boating hazards are another thing that can come up unexpectedly, and a lot of times you can't see sand bars. You can't see rock piles under the water, trees that are down, anything like that, so knowing the water is important," Swenson said.

Swenson said there are many recreational activities with a safety class, like hunter safety, but he added boating safety has by far the most fatalities statewide compared to other courses.

There are three-day boating safety courses being offered at the Lafayette Town Hall May 23-25 and June 21-23. For more information or to register for a class, call Swenson at 715-828-2514. 

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