Lake McConaughy (copy)

A speedboat tows two young men aboard an inflated tube on Lake McConaughy. 

Nebraska is home to 88,622 registered boats, and Iowa has more than 231,000. That’s a lot of vessels traversing our lakes and rivers. Boaters and personal watercraft operators need to be mindful of responsible boating operation, for their own safety and that of others on the water.

Each year, boating accidents damage property and cause injury and even death.

Last year, four people died in Nebraska boating accidents, and 16 individuals suffered injuries requiring medical attention. There were 21 reported accidents.

Those figures were generally typical for the state, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. In 2017, the numbers were four fatalities, with 14 people injured and needing medical attention, and 31 reported accidents.

The Iowa numbers for 2018: eight fatalities (up from four the year before); personal injury to 17 people (22 in 2017); and seven property damage occurrences with $2,000 or more in damage (15 in 2017).

The figures show the need to mix responsible behavior with boating fun.

Among the recommendations from Nebraska Game and Parks and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources:

» Wear life jackets. None of the individuals who died on Nebraska waters last year were wearing life jackets.

» Take the mandatory state instructional course on boating operations and safety. Of the 26 boat operators involved in the 21 accidents in Nebraska last year, seven indicated they had completed the state course, while 19 said they had received no formal boating safety education. Information on the Nebraska course: http://outdoornebraska.gov/boatereducation/. For Iowa: https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Boating/Boater-Education.

» Avoid excessive alcohol use, and plan ahead to have a sober operator. In both states, the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for boating is .08, the same as for operation of a motor vehicle. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Iowa Department of Natural Resources will be participating in the National Operation Dry Water effort, promoting safe boating operation, with specialized patrols during July 5-7.

In addition to safety concerns, boaters have an obligation to reduce the chances of spreading invasive species from one body of water to another.

After removing boats from the water and before leaving boat landings or fishing access sites, boaters should drain their bait buckets and all equipment holding water, and rinse equipment and boat hulls. Anglers should put their fish on ice.

Game and Parks officials have noted a significant increase in the number of people participating in paddle sports such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and canoeing. Such vessels don’t need to be registered, but boat operators need to be mindful of those individuals on the water.

The Midlands offer great opportunities for fun on lakes and rivers. There’s no need for it to be spoiled by reckless boat operation.

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