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Boat safety as temperatures rise; Wisconsin DNR reminds boaters of new federal law

Boat Safety
Posted at 2:17 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 19:58:25-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — Before you head out on the water this spring and summer, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to make sure you are as prepared and safe as possible.

As of April 1, a new law on boat engine cut-off switch went into effect that applies on Federal waters such as Green Bay, Lake Michigan, the Winnebago System, and the Fox River.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, this law applies to "Covered Recreational vessels" which means any motorized boat with three or more horsepower that is less than 26 feet in length.

Boat operators must wear a link that shuts off the engine in the event an operator is thrown off from their boat.

“Every boat operator when the boat is underway is required to wear their lanyard, their kill switch. The boat would have come with basically a string that hooks into the throttle assembly. When that is pulled, it shuts the engine off. That is designed so that if the boat operator goes overboard, the boat doesn’t continue - it stops right in its track. That passed as of April 1, that's effective on federal waterways. That is new, brand new,” said Darren Kuhn, Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden. “So boat owners, boat operators are probably going to have to find that lanyard and if they can’t find it, they’re going to end up going to a marina or somewhere that sells boat equipment, because the Coast Guard will be looking for it this summer.”

Another important thing the DNR says to look out for is floating debris.

Kuhn says this time of year, especially in the northern part of the state, there still may be chunks of ice floating around.

“You’re really going to have to watch your speeds, especially if you’re out after dark. Seeing floating ice in the daytime is a lot easier than seeing floating ice at night. Some of those chunks of ice could cause damage to your boat. Could also cause some injury if the boat hits it and you’re going too fast,” Kuhn said.

He also goes on to remind people about the importance of having life jackets inside the boat.

“A lot of times when people put their boats away for the winter they take the life jackets out and store the life jackets in a separate location. So every boat no matter the size or shape, whether it’s a kayak or a fishing boat or cabin cruiser, is required to have one wearable type life jacket for everyone on board. And any boat that is 16 feet or greater has to have what is a "throwable," also known as a seat cushion,” Kuhn said.

He says this should all be readily accessible.

Kuhn also said although the law doesn’t require the use of life jackets for adult boaters, they say they encourage all boaters to wear one, no matter their swimming ability.

“If you’re not wearing one that is just one added step in a stressful situation to help you save lives,” Kuhn said.

And while the weather is warming up, Kuhn also warns about the dangerously cold water temperatures.

“It is warming up with the sunny days, the water temperature is still warming up, but it is still cold. If you go in the water, hypothermia is a distinct possibility,” Kuhn said. “Again if you had your life jacket on, the odds of saving your life are that much increased, but you don’t have a lot of time before hypothermia sets in this time of year.”

He goes on to say these are just not ideal conditions to be in the water.

“If you think about going for a swim right now off the dock, you are going to have the shock factor it's going to be really cold,” Kuhn said.

For more information on the new federal law on boat engine cut-off switch, you can click here for details.