Promoting water safety

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Art Hampe, director of Palo Alto County Conservation Board, displays different flotation devices during a Tuesday evening water safety program at the Lost Island Nature Center. (Photo submitted)

Who is allowed to operate a boat? How many lifejackets are required? What do the buoys 300 feet from shore mean?

These were some of the questions answered Tuesday evening, during a water safety program sponsored by the Lost Island Protective Association and the Palo Alto County Conservation Board at the Lost Island Nature Center.

Art Hampe, director of the board, said the program was meant to address potential hazards brought on by increased traffic on Lost Island Lake.

"With lake restoration and improvement, along with it come larger groups of people," Hampe said. "Lake usage is 10-fold what we had 20 years ago. We're dealing with the potential hazards of everyday life, now compounded by that many more boats."

Most boats, those 16 feet and longer, are required to have one properly-fitting lifejacket per person, as well as a throwable floating device.

Children 13 years old and younger must wear a lifejacket.

Hampe described the different types of lifejackets.

"Type one is the safest, but probably the most uncomfortable; you can stay upright, face-up for long times," Hampe said. "Type two doesn't always right you, but most of the time it will. Type three is probably the most common. It's more of a comfortable vest type and is a legal life jacket.

"If you get into an accident, they will not right you face up," Hampe continued. "The ugly, old ones no one wants to wear are probably the safest."

If an accident occurs, Hampe urges bystanders not to remove an injured person from the water, but rather keep them face up until emergency personnel arrive.

During the program, he taught how to use CPR and automated external defibrillators.

Boat operators must be at least 12 years old. Those under the age of 18 must be supervised by an adult, unless they have taken the online safety course offered by the Department of Natural Resources and have the boater safety certificate with them.

Nearly all boating accidents are alcohol-related, Hampe said. He reminds boaters that the legal blood-alcohol content for boat operators decreased from .1 to .08 on July 1, 2011. Although Boating While Intoxicated charges do not affect an individual's driver's license, the fines and jail time for offenses are similar.

Just like a motor vehicle, most water vessels have to be registered, including canoes and kayaks longer than 13 feet.

"Most are longer than that, so they have to be registered," Hampe said.

In regard to motorboats, Hampe said his office gets a lot of calls about boaters creating a wake inside of the 300-feet buoys.

"It's not a no-wake buoy, it's a 10 mph buoy," Hampe clarified. "Buoys are marked differently if they are a no-wake zone."

He also warned of the dangers of invasive species. Boaters are encouraged to drain all water from their boats before moving to another body of water to stop the spread of invasive species.

Hampe said he hopes to provide an annual water safety course to increase awareness, as a preventative measure.

"There have been way too many accidents throughout Iowa," Hampe said. "We've been pretty lucky at Lost Island, but we're a little worried with the numbers we're seeing."

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