When is Enough, Enough?
by Tom Rau

As of late July, I know of 22 water- related fatalities during the 2007 boating season. Not only do these grim figures weigh heavy on my heart, they drive me insane since nearly every one could have been avoided. So when is enough, enough? What will it take to stop this needless loss of life upon the waters that can scotch a family in ways that no amount of heaving will ever mend?

A woman practices tossing a rescue heaving line. Beach goers should be prepared to assist swimmers, especially youngsters. Four people have drowned along Lake Michigan beaches this year. Information on rescue heaving lines can be found on this website’s home page under rescue heaving line. I strongly recommend practicing with the heaving line so as to develop ease of use.

I liken water-related fatalities to being betrayed by a loving friend. And like a loving friend, few influences can be as persuasive as the marine environment, especially on a nice day. Coast Guard Statistics on boating fatalities and injuries show that 83-percent occur on nice days.

I’ve been around and around on this issue to the point of dizziness. For boaters and water enthusiasts to stop the never-ending cycle of waterborne deaths and injuries, they must end their apparent infatuation with the marine environment. Believe me, I’m as infatuated as most, but I’ve known her indifference all too well, and I have learned to keep her at bay through constant vigilance. She simply could give a hoot how I feel about her, good or bad.

She is enthralling alright but never to be trusted. Following is a series of recent fatalities and serious injuries that crossed my boat-smart desk. Many of these deaths and injuries can be laid at the doorstep of her victims, but in the end, it was the marine environment that prevailed, doorstep or not.

July 19, 2007, Douglas Beach, Lake Michigan. A10-year-old boy drowned in Lake Michigan in high waves as his parents look on.

July 16, 2007,. Norwood, Charlevoix County, Michigan. A 46-year-old male drowned in Lake Michigan while retrieving golf balls.

July 11, 2007, Manistee, Michigan. A 15-year-old boy drowned off Manistee’s Fifth Avenue Beach, Lake Michigan. At the time of the mid-afternoon incident, Coast Guard officials reported four-to-six-foot waves with winds blowing between 15 and 25 knots.

July 11, 2007, Chicago, Lake Michigan. A fisherman drowned after the 16-foot outboard boat he was aboard capsized and sunk in rough waters about a mile from Navy Pier, Lake Michigan. He was not wearing a life jacket. According to the National Weather Service the winds were gusting about 25 knots, with lake waves about 6 feet.

July 8, 2007, Cheboygan County, Michigan. A 53 year-old male, while fishing alone on Burt Lake, fell overboard and drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line.

July 7, 2007, Spring Lake, Michigan. A 33-year-old man jumped off the stern of a boat and never surfaced. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department divers recovered his body the following morning. The bayou, in which he drowned, is locally known as “Hanky Panky Bayou” because of the partying by boaters.
July 6, 2007, Clare County, Michigan. A jet-ski operator slammed into a boat on George Lake and was fatality injured. According to authorities, at the time of the accident there were a lot of boats on the lake.
July 6, 2007, White Lake Township, Michigan. A 16-year-old boy was serious injured on Pontiac Lake when the inner tube he was riding slammed into a boat dock. He was being towed behind a personal water craft. The 16 year old suffered head injuries, a broken left leg, and lacerations to his right leg.

July 4, 2007, Muskegon County, Michigan. An 8-year-old boy lost his right leg after being run over on Middle Lake by a 19-foot power boat. The boy was being pulled on a tube behind a personal water craft when he fell off the tube and was struck by the 19-foot powerboat.

June 29, 2007, Gladwin County, Michigan. A collision between a jet ski and pontoon boat on Wixon Lake proved fatal. The operator of the jet ski suffered fatal injuries as a result of the crash.

June 20, 2007, St. Joseph, Michigan. A 20-year-old male jumped off the south pier into Lake Michigan and never resurfaced. This brings my count of Lake Michigan pier and beach fatalities over the last seven years to 45.

June 15, 2007, Torch Lake, Traverse County, Michigan. A 28-year-old man went overboard off a boat while boating with friends. Friends aboard the boat could not locate him. Rescuers recovered his body the next day. Between 2005 and now I know of 34 boating fatalities due to boat separation.

June 17, 2007, Manistee, Michigan. A 47-year-male fisherman fell off a 22-foot power boat off Manistee into Lake Michigan. His boat was located by rescuers 30 miles northwest of Manistee. The boat was out of gas with fishing lines out. His body remains missing.

May 6, 2007, St. Joseph, Michigan. A fisherman, 58, died after his boat overturned on Lake Michigan off St. Joseph. The small boat capsized when four-foot seas poured over the stern. He was not wearing a life jacket.
On June 3, 2007, one of Michigan’s renowned sailors, Bruce Goldsmith, died when the boom of his 29-foot sailboat struck his head, knocking him overboard into seven-foot seas off Monroe, Michigan, Lake Erie. The 1967 and 1975 Pan Am Games gold medalists sailor was not wearing a life jacket.

On June 12, 2007, a 75-year-old sailor separated from 15-foot sailboat in choppy seas in Lake Michigan near Washington Island, Wisconsin. An extensive Coast Guard search failed to find the reportedly experienced sailor. He was not wearing a life jacket.

And the list goes on….

These fatalities and injuries occurred mostly in Michigan waters. On my Boat Smart desk also sits a list of Wisconsin fatalities, not to mention boating mishaps for the states of Indiana and Illinois that border Lake Michigan. But aren’t these Michigan boating fatalities and injuries alone enough?

So when will enough be enough: when boaters not only learn to boat smart but realize why they should boat smart. In other words, give the marine environment the respect it unconditionally demands.

Tom Rau is a long-time Coast Guard rescue responder and syndicated boating safety columnist. Look for his book, Boat Smart Chronicles, a shocking expose on recreational boating — reads like a great ship’s log spanning over two decades. It’s available to order at: www.boatsmart.net, www.seaworthy.com, www.amazon.com, or through local bookstores.