No lifejackets were on board when sailboat capsized
Park rangers in Summit County, who are gearing up for summer, remind boaters that many lake-related fatalities would be avoided if people wear lifejackets.
Two people on an 18-foot sailboat at Rockport State Park were not wearing safety vests when the boat capsized May 9. A caller told a dispatcher at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office that the sailboat overturned in the water at about 3:50 p.m.
Snyderville Basin resident Darci Herr was arriving at Rockport on Mother’s Day when the boat tipped over on the northwest side of the reservoir.
"The couple was seen waving their arms as they stood on the upturned bow of their small sailboat," Herr said.
The man and woman were standing on the overturned vessel when a ranger arrived.
"The boat was belly up," said Chris Quatrale, a park ranger at Rockport State Park. "They did not have any lifejackets on."
"I first gave them lifejackets, and instructed them to put them on," Quatrale added.
The couple lives in the Bountiful area and the man had experience sailing the boat. They were not injured when the boat tipped.
"The wind came up and they believe that they had two crosswinds," Quatrale explained. "It was a good sailing day. For some sailors it was probably too windy."
The mast broke off in the water as a crew recovered the boat.
"It had totally flipped over so the mast was pointing straight down," Quatrale said.
There were no lifejackets on board, which is against the law, he stressed.
"Any vessel has to have enough lifejackets present on board for all occupants on the vessel," Quatrale said.
But people older than 12 are not required to wear safety vests while boating.
"So if you have a ski boat that holds seven people and you are all adults, you’re not required to wear your personal flotation device, but there has to be seven of those on board," Quatrale said.
The Rockport incident could as easily not had a happy ending.
"When something like that happens, a boat capsizing, you’re thrown off the boat," Quatrale said. "You don’t know where you are going to land, how you are going to land or what’s going to hit you from the boat when it’s turning over."
"It could be enough to knock you unconscious and the right personal flotation device is designed to keep your head out of the water."
Meanwhile, Coast Guard-approved safety vests must be worn by anyone riding a personal watercraft. Lifejackets must also be worn by water skiers, wake boarders or anyone else being towed behind a boat.
"The best way to minimize any risk from drowning is to wear a personal floatation device," Quatrale said.
Citations are sometimes issued when a boat does not have enough lifejackets for all of its passengers. No tickets were issued in the Rockport case.
"He did get a pretty stern warning from me," Quatrale said. "For me personally, if I believe just that an education is needed to correct the problem, then that’s enough and I will not issue a citation."
There are about 700 boating-related fatalities in the United States each year.
"About 80 percent of the people who die in boating accidents would have survived had they had a lifejacket on," Utah State Parks Boating Program Manager Dave Harris said. "Most of the accidents aren’t fiery crashes and stuff like that. It’s people falling overboard, boats sinking, people in the water that would be OK if they just had a lifejacket on."
The laws regarding lifejackets in Utah are similar to most other states, he added.
"If you don’t have the lifejacket on your body at the time of the accident, most of the time you are not going to be able to get it," Harris said. "If every state had a law that said everybody had to where a lifejacket, nationwide there would be 400 or 500 lives saved."
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