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Life Jackets Save Lives On Wisconsin Waters

Recreate Responsibility This Summer

Wear a life jacket and boat safely on Wisconsin's waters this year. / Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urges all Wisconsinites planning to boat or enjoy watersports this year to wear a life jacket.

It’s National Safe Boating Week, and with warming weather, the DNR anticipates an increase in boating, paddling and watersport activities heading into Memorial Day weekend.

“Boating is a big part of Wisconsin’s culture and summertime fun,” said Lt. Warden Darren Kuhn, DNR Boating Law Administrator. “With that comes the responsibility of operating your boat safely and responsibly. Part of that is ensuring there are enough life jackets for everyone.”

So far in 2024 there have been two boating fatalities in the state. In 2023, there were 28 boating fatalities, 27 of which involved a victim not wearing a life jacket. Operator inexperience, inattention, recklessness and speeding are the four leading causes of tragic watercraft crashes, and the leading cause of death is drowning.

The department does not track all drownings – only those fatalities linked to the use of a recreational activity item, such as a boat, kayak or canoe. The DNR’s Boating Incident Report webpage contains information on all fatality reports.

Statistics show boaters who wear life jackets and take boater safety courses are most likely to stay safe on Wisconsin waters. 

“Just because you are a good swimmer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a life jacket,” said Kuhn. “Accidents happen fast, and individuals can become incapacitated, exhausted or weighed down by wet clothing or gear. Wearing a life jacket can save your life and prevent a fun summer outing from becoming a tragedy.”

New life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters think of. There are also innovative options, such as inflatable life jackets, which allow greater mobility for fishing, paddling or hunting and are much cooler in warm weather.

Follow the safety tips below and enjoy Wisconsin's great lakes and rivers with family and friends.

  • Sign up now to take an online boater education course.

  • Always wear a properly fitted and fastened life jacket when on or near the water. A life jacket will keep you on top of the water if you walk off an unexpected drop-off, a wave or current overpower you or you fall out of a boat.

  • Enjoy the waters sober and know your limits. Alcohol blurs a person's judgment, reaction time and abilities.

  • River shorelines and sandbars pose unseen dangers. Higher, fast-moving water can tax an individual's boating, paddling and swimming skills.

  • Keep an eye on the weather and always tell someone where you are going.

  • Create a float plan and tell people when and where you plan to depart and return before going for a float or paddle.

Be ready for the unexpected, and always wear your life jacket. Learn more about watersport safety on the DNR’s Boat Safety webpage.

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