Navigating the Mississippi River waters can be very dangerous. There are a large number of people who fish or enjoy other recreational activities on the river, and while there are not a lot of drownings, according to Winona County Sherrif Dave Brand, “there are people who get hurt.”
Before taking a boat out on the river, it is important to make sure the boat is safe and ready for water. Be sure the boat has its plug in, and there are lifejackets for everyone on board. “Make sure the motor works and that you get it tuned up before taking it out,” Brand said. “That’s where a lot of people run into problems; their motor fails.” It’s important to have a good anchor on your boat, in case your motor malfunctions, Brand added.
If the motor fails on the boat, immediately drop the anchor on the boat to prevent drifting, damage, and passage into a dam. After dropping anchor, call 911 and someone will be able to come assist in the situation, Brand stated, and then provided an example.
“In 2007, a family was out fishing and their motor failed. They pulled up anchor and tried to start it and got pulled into Lock and Dam 7. What they should have done was try to start the motor with the anchor still down,” explained Brand. Unfortunately all four lives on the boat were lost, and only three bodies were ever recovered.
Even with a safe, fully equipped boat, people can run into problems with the river, Brand noted. The water is high this year and the current has been strong. People operating boats need to be cautious. “If they can’t control the boat they’re going to go downstream and run into the dam,” Brand warned.
As with any motor vehicle, operators should not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “DWI laws are enforced out on the river,” Brand said. “If you’re going to be operating a boat, you shouldn’t be drinking.”
It is important to take as many safety precautions as possible while out on a boat. Brand urges people going out on the river to notify someone of the area they will be in before they leave shore. It’s a good safety precaution, in case something were to happen.
Above all, be sure to wear a life jacket on the river. “A lot of people who are not good swimmers or half-way swimmers, don’t wear a life jacket,” Brand noted. “Even strong swimmers can go under in the river.”