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Heading out for a day on the lake is one of the best ways to beat the summer heat in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, lakes can also be accident sites when boaters are negligent. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports that in a ten-year period, from 2010 to 2019, there was an annual average of 104 accidents on Wisconsin lakes. In 2019 there were 83 boating incidents which resulted in 9 fatalities and 50 injuries. 

Boating accidents can leave victims with painful, lasting medical problems and high hospital bills. Such accidents can be caused by the boat owner’s negligence. For example, boating accidents can occur when the:

  • Water conditions are hazardous
  • Equipment / Machinery Failure
  • Operator is too inexperienced 
  • Operator is impaired due to alcohol or drug use
  • Operator is not paying attention
  • Submerged obstruction
  • Passenger behavior
  • Operator is failing to follow boating laws and regulations
  • Boat does not include required safety equipment such as regulated lights, horns, and life preservers
    • In 2019 alone, 8 out of the 9 fatalities were not wearing or using a life preserver. 
  • Operator is speeding
  • Operator is creating dangerous wakes in “no wake” areas

Driving a boat demands a level of responsibility that ensures the safety of all individuals in the surrounding area including passengers, swimmers, people in other boats, and people enjoying water-sports. Negligence can result in dangerous accidents that leave victims severely injured.

Requirements and Education

Wisconsin boating safety certification, or out-of-state equivalent certifications required for operators born on or after January 1, 1989.

There are many education and outreach programs available. For instance, the “Kid’s Don’t Float Life Jacket Loaner Board” program is a co-op program between the DNR and community partners. A life jacket loaner station is placed at boat landings around Wisconsin. The stations provide a loaner life jacket for boaters. Currently, there are 147 stations in the program.