This past weekend, we enjoyed another sunny Saturday in Chicago's "Play Pen," just north of the iconic Navy Pier. On such a nice day, hundreds of boats will anchor and raft-off of each other and people swim from boat to boat, or layout on the rafts behind the boats. This area has had several boat accidents and even some fatalities. People are drowning and severally injured because of careless and reckless boating. I only wish that the worse thing we witnessed was boaters moving with swim ladders down, lines in the water, or something less dangerous.
I have been boating for over thirty (30) years. This includes working water rescue, law enforcement, private + public charters as a USCG licensed Master Captain, and recreational boating. When some people get behind the helm, they seem to check their brain at the dock. Here is an example of what we witnessed this past weekend: several families aboard a 24' pontoon were coming around the corner of the "Play Pen" with children sitting on the bow of the boat, letting their feet drag in the water. The speed of the pontoon was about 15mph, and the waves were 1-3', not including boat wakes. The man driving the pontoon boat could not see the heads of all the kids, and seemed more interested in where they could anchor and party. This is not just a Chicago thing, as we have spotted this reprehensible behavior in FL, TX, CA, WI, MN, MI and elsewhere... usually with rental pontoons.
Distance = Speed x Time. At the typical "No Wake" speed of a pontoon boat is +/- 6mph, so that boat still covers 8.8 feet per second. Even under ideal conditions, the response time for a "Man Overboard" situation is about 4 seconds. This means that the kid(s) who went under the pontoon boat were already into the propeller before the driver could react. As for Saturday, 15mph is 22 feet per second, so those kid(s) would not have a chance to avoid injury or death. Whether or not the kids were wearing life jackets is a moot point, as they would have still ended up in the propeller.
It is up to the responsible boating community to band together and not allow senseless accidents. Yes, I went over to the parents and I did say something. Not as a jerk, but as a seasoned boater offering some experience and advice to another boater. The adults seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, from a proactive stance. Being assertive and not talking down to the adults on that boat hopefully saved a life in the future. I challenge other safe boating friends to do the same.