Paddleboarders have close call on Rockport Reservoir
Oakley woman narrowly escapes collision with boat
July 14, 2017
Two women who went paddleboarding on Rockport Reservoir last month say they narrowly escaped a deadly collision with a boater and want to warn others about their experience.
Friday, June 23, Connie Nelson and Mona Cotter joined a third friend at the reservoir for an evening of paddleboarding and kayaking. Nelson, a Jeremy Ranch resident, said they are very conscious of their safety while on the reservoir and were wearing bright, neon colors the day of the incident. Cotter was also wearing an orange life vest.
Nelson said the trio had barely made it off the shore when she noticed a large, black boat heading directly toward them.
"All I could see was the hull because it was a wakeboard boat and it sits really low in the back and they were pulling someone," Nelson said. "I'm looking at it and it just keeps coming. I'm like, 'I don't think he is going to stop.'"
Nelson said she raised her paddle above her head and began screaming "at the top of my lungs," but the boat appeared to speed up as it approached them.
"Mona (Cotter) was on the right, our other friend was on the left and I was in the middle, but at that point Mona jumped off her board," Nelson said. "Both her and her board went under the boat. I was literally beside it screaming because I thought Mona was killed.
"The driver of the boat killed the engine and I went over and picked her (Mona) up on my board because she, thankfully, had a floatation device," she said. "We were all in shock. This guy who saw the whole thing from the shore comes flying out on his paddleboard and called 911."
Cotter said she barely remembers the collision and has suffered from whiplash since the incident. She said her paddleboard was destroyed and she has taken several days off from the activity.
"I have never had any close calls out there in three years of paddleboarding and if Connie wouldn't have noticed the boat, I wouldn't have realized it was behind me," Cotter said. "The driver of the boat said his motor wasn't working so he went down to fix it and didn't see us, even though the boat was full of people."
Tony Santora, park manager for Rockport Reservoir, said non-motorized sports, such as paddleboarding and canoeing, are growing in popularity. He said close calls involving boaters are also becoming more common. But, he added, "A paddleboarder being hit is actually pretty rare."
"I definitely think there are a lot of things that boaters and paddleboarders can do to make sure a similar incident doesn't happen to them," Santora said. "Being aware is really the most important thing for both parties. We do have a lot of paddleboarders and kayakers. It is great exercise, but they can be very hard to see, especially going into the evenings.
"Wake surfing is also growing in popularity and boaters' bows are pretty high in the air and their stern is pushed down in the water," he said. "They have to make sure they can get their eyes over the bow."
According to the rules and regulations for operating a boat on Rockport Reservoir, when towing water skis, wakeboards, or other devices, boat operators must maintain a safe course to ensure safety. Additionally, the boat operator must also have an observer – who is at least eight years old – on board to watch and communicate with the skier and driver.
"Being aware and having an observer or proper lookout is required," Santora said. "But, at the same time, paddleboarders need to be aware that they are hard to see and if they are paddling out to the middle of the lake, which they are allowed to do, it doesn't mean they should. They might not be seen and they could be putting themselves into a dangerous situation."
A wakeless or idle speed is required whenever a boat is within 150 feet of another boat, a person in the water, a water skier, shore angler, launch ramp, dock or other designated swimming areas.
If an accident occurs, law enforcement must be immediately notified "if anyone dies, disappears, requires treatment beyond simple first aid, or combined property damage exceeds $2,000," the website states. An accident report can then be submitted to the Utah State Parks within 10 days.
Santora said it was clear the boater was not paying attention during the incident involving Nelson and Cotter, and "they did everything they were supposed to." However, he said the decision was made not to issue a citation.
"Once he did have a discussion with the boater, he did determine that he was not going to issue a citation," Santora said. "And we do allow our officers their discretion to make that judgement call."
Cotter said she was upset that the decision to press charges was ultimately hers and not the on-duty park ranger's.
"At this point, the driver of the boat is working with me and he exchanged all of his information with us, but the ranger is at fault because he did not follow through and give him a ticket," Cotter said. "It's crazy that they left it up to us whether we wanted to pursue charges on him. I was in shock and didn't remember huge gaps of it."
Nelson said she doesn't want to point fingers or place blame on anyone, but hopes that people will take the time to understand the rules of operating a boat while others are recreating in the water.
"I think the scary thing is people need to know that that boat is a vehicle and it is a deadly weapon," Nelson said. "Town is busier than ever and the lakes are just busier and we have hit the map. It's a great thing that our town is flourishing and visitors are loving it, but when you are out on a boat it is not OK to disregard the rules."