Park rangers discuss safety as warm weather draws Utahns to reservoirs

Posted at 9:34 PM, Apr 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-25 10:00:37-04

UTAH -- As the weather gets warmer, people are starting to head out to the water to fish and boat.

But this time of year, Utah State Parks says, poses dangers and they start responding to more calls of drownings.

FOX 13 News rode along with a Deer Creek State Park ranger Sunday as he conducted safety inspections on boats. Boaters have begun to flock to Deer Creek Reservoir for the spring and summer season.

“First time this year,” said Saratoga Springs resident Stephen Lavigne, who took his new boat out for an inaugural run.

Travis Greenwood from Lehi came out with his whole family.

“We were test driving a boat,” he said.

Whatever folks are doing out on the water, state park rangers aren’t far away, keeping a close eye on what’s happening.

Steve Bullock, Deer Creek State Park Assistant Park Manager, patrols the water for hours a day as he looks for violations.

“We’re also really concerned about drunk drivers on the water,” he said as he cruised around the lake.

Bullock said last year at Deer Creek Reservoir they arrested eight boat drivers for DUI.

They also check on violations not easily seen from the patrol boat by conducting inspections—to make sure everyone’s following the law.

“We have life jackets for everybody on board today?” he asked a family of three who were fishing in the reservoir.

After running through a number of checklist items, he determined they had all the proper gear, aside from an expired fire extinguisher.

"We’re looking for things like life jackets for each person, that kids under the age of 13 are wearing a life jacket," he said. "That they have a throw-able life saving device for someone else. Other things like bailing buckets and fire extinguishers and spare paddles all come in really handy and are required by law."

He said the biggest problem they see on inspections is a lack of life jackets. Bullock said they also catch people driving too close to other boats, and passengers sitting in an unsafe spot, like on the back of the boat.

Hitting the water this early in the season carries its own issues to stay aware of.

“This time of year, the water temperature’s still cold, it’s about 45 degrees here at Deer Creek State Park,” he said. “Other reservoirs, the ice has only been off for a couple of weeks.”

That makes it even more important to wear a life jacket, he said, and a wet or dry suit if water skiing or wakeboarding.

At the very least, their job is to make sure boaters are following the law.

The boat Bullock checked on while we rode along Sunday didn’t have insurance.

“I’ll give you a little pamphlet today, and probably can resolve that with a warning," he said. "It’s an important thing, it’s kind of an expensive ticket."

A warning this time, but he said tickets can range from $100 to $600. It’s an incentive for folks to stay safe, and take steps that can make the difference in saving a life.