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Northwoods fishing guide pushes for safer Wisconsin life jacket lawsSubmitted: 08/27/2015
MINOCQUA - Too many times, Minocqua-area fishing guide Greg Bohn has heard the stories of tragedy.

A parent on Wisconsin waters jumps in to try to rescue their child, who is in the water without a life jacket. But the parent, also not wearing a personal floatation device (PFD), drowns, even if the child survives.

It happened in July on Shawano Lake in Shawano County, and on Minocqua Lake a few years ago.

"Accidents can happen in seconds, and there's total chaos and emergency," Bohn says while touring Minocqua Lake on his fishing boat.


Just about every state requires children younger than 13 to wear a life jacket while boating.

Wisconsin doesn't.

That has worried a Bohn for years, but July's accident especially spurred him.

"The most recent drowning on Shawano Lake really propelled me to get some progress made," he says.

Neither father nor son was wearing a PFD at the time of that accident.

"Had that child had a PFD on, we would not be talking about a drowning," Bohn says. "It's the parents that, often times, drown, as a result of trying to save their children from drowning."

"They just automatically go into the water, are able to possibly rescue the child, but then they're exhausted and weak and they go down before they can get in themselves," agrees DNR Warden Supervisor Dave Walz.

Bohn wants a state law requiring children younger than 13 to wear PFDs while their boat is moving. He believes it would cut down on drownings.

"Any time a boat is moving or underway, a child is at risk, and so are their parents at risk, while that boat is moving, by not wearing a PFD," Bohn says.

A law might help emphasize the point to Wisconsin boating families.

"When I've been out, I would say about as many aren't wearing life jackets as there are," Walz says of his observations of children on the water.

Bohn will meet with DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp in September, hoping she can help push for a change in law. He also hopes to put pressure on legislators to do the same.

If the state followed Bohn's suggestion, Wisconsin law would match federal law, which currently only applies to federal waters like the Great Lakes, Lake Winnebago, and the Mississippi River.

He thinks it's a simple question.

"Children, when they're in a vehicle, they must be strapped in, they must have their seat belt on," Bohn says. "Why not if they're on a boat that's moving on the water?"

Story By: Ben Meyer

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