MILWAUKEE — An alarming number of drownings over the past week in Southeastern Wisconsin has the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) emphasizing the importance of wearing life jackets on open bodies of water.
Anytime you are on a boat, life jackets are required for all on board, but the DNR says far too often that isn’t what their inspectors find.
Law enforcement agencies in Dane, Kenosha, Walworth and Waukesha counties say six people, ages eight to 81, went under water at inland lakes and ponds over the past week and never resurfaced.
Paula Jackson says each time she goes swimming or boating with her kids and granddaughter, fears of drowning naturally cross her mind.
"It's why we say, 'hey, I want you to stay close because you never know when there's an undercurrent or anything coming,’” she said.
The Wisconsin DNR does thousands of boat inspections each year. DNR Conservation Warden Erik Anderson says the most common violation they run into is boaters not carrying life jackets.
"It's definitely frustrating,” he said. "It's definitely one of those things where you need it and don't have it, it's not going to be a situation that you want to be in."
Wisconsin DNR data shows there were 25 fatal boating accidents last year. All but two victims drowned without wearing life jackets. Similarly, 22 people died in boating accidents in 2020. A DNR report shows that 18 of them didn’t have life jackets.
"There's a variety of factors that come into play and with that unpredictability and those other factors that are out of people's control. It doesn't necessarily matter if you are the world's best swimmer or not a good swimmer,” Anderson said. “Having equipment such as life jackets goes a long way at ensuring safety.”
Drownings clearly extend past boating accidents to swimmers as well. The CDC says an average of 65 people drown in Wisconsin each year. Nationwide, it’s the leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages one to 14 behind car accidents.
"I can't imagine one having to figure out how that person felt going through that, knowing what was happening, but also what happens in life when you no longer have that person with you,” Jackson said.
Without lifeguards on duty this summer at Waukesha County beaches, Jackson wonders if each one should offer life jackets to borrow instead.