Water safety should be top priority

Officials were warning the public Wednesday to be vigilant about water safety after three children died in recent boating and swimming accidents in northern Michigan.

Eleven-year-old Autumn Prohaska died Saturday when a water tube that she was riding on collided with a personal watercraft on Hubbard Lake. An eight-year-old Ann Arbor boy died Monday of hypothermia after the canoe he was in tipped over in Lake Michigan. And two people drowned as a result of swimming in cold water in the Grand Traverse area, including a 16-year-old boy, who died June 23.

The Alcona County sheriff’s Deputy Scott McKenzie, who investigated the Hubbard Lake accident, said the case is being reviewed by the prosecutor. However, alcohol was not a factor.

“Basically as we gather the statements and learn how and what happened, we are really urging boaters to use extreme caution when out on the water,” McKenzie said, adding that the July 4 holiday is especially busy on the area’s lakes and streams.

Leelanau County Sheriff Michael Borkovich’s department covered the death of the 8-year-old boy. He said he was aware of the Hubbard Lake case as well as two recent drownings in the Traverse City area.

“It’s just devastating us,” Borkovich said. “The most important thing as a sheriff coming from a water county is for everybody to please respect the Great Lakes. Everybody seems to be in this extreme sports mode. They’re going to have to rethink how they recreate.”

He said the eight-year-old and his father were paddling a canoe in the open waters of Lake Michigan, attempting to reach an island nine miles away. The canoe tipped over in water 55 degrees about a half mile from shore. Both the father and son were wearing life jackets.

David Dickerson, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association in Washington, D.C., also is an advocate for safety.

“Every year we have such heart-rendering accidents on waterways,” Dickerson said.

Although his organization focuses primarily on PWCs, Dickerson also spoke about other lightweight craft.

“Several rules go hand-in-hand,” Dickerson said. “With a PWC there are certain things you need to know. With a canoe there are certain things you need to know.”

The most important thing for all watercraft users is to take a boater safety course and get a safety education card before going out, he said.

Another issue is that all watercraft operators need to be “predictable,” he said.

“That means that you are not erratic or aggressive in your maneuvers, and that you keep at least 100 feet between you and any boat or object,” he said. “We stress that regardless of what the rules are, you give way and you be the one to make sure you’re safe. Those are the kinds of things you learn in a boater safety course.”

Such classes are easy to locate by going to www.dnr.state.mi.us/recnsearch/ and searching by county. The next class will be held in Alcona County 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 12 at the Lost Lake Woods clubhouse, 4243 Lost Lake Trail, Lincoln. Open to the public, pre-registration is required and can be made by calling 736-8197.

The day-long class and lunch are free, executive assistant Anne Milewski said.

Boater safety courses also are available online, Michigan Boating Law Administrator Lt. Andrew Turner said, and take about six to eight hours to complete. One course is offered at www.boat-ed.com/michigan and another is available at www.boaterexam.com. At the end of the class, students pay a fee of around $30 and receive a certificate that they can print out.

Last year, 17 people died in Michigan boating accidents, and 25 lost their lives in 2011, Turner said.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.