Lake Michigan boater safety; sheriff's office patrolling waters

It was a little cold Saturday for a lot of boaters to get out on the water, but a lot of people were getting their boats ready for the season at McKinley Marina. 

"It’s a quick, easy way to get away from the stress of working," said Dave Smith, who has been sailing since high school.

Escaping to the water doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind. Getting his boat ready for the season means getting ready for anything and showing newcomers the ropes.

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"The key is having someone on board who’s really experienced," he said. "We all have some sort of method for getting back on board, so that’s the key.

"It’s really important, especially Lake Michigan is cold. Things don’t happen that fast on a sailboat but when they do go wrong you have to make a lot of right decisions."

Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office Maritime Unit

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office is already patrolling Lake Michigan, and deputies want boaters to know about safety this season.

"Be alert out there. Not only are you responsible for your safety, but everyone else’s safety," said Lt. Jeremy Franke, commander of the MCSO Maritime Unit. "We’re dealing with a large body like Lake Michigan that’s oftentimes unpredictable. Be ready for weather changes, operate your boat in a safe manner around other vessels and always have safety in mind."

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Franke said the main issues the sheriff's office comes across are registration and slow-no-wake violations – along with boats not having enough flotation devices. 

Flotation devices are one of the things Smith makes sure to keep on board, so he can leave his worries on the docks.

Dave Smith walks to his boat at McKinley Marina

"They’re very accessible if you need one in a hurry," said Smith.

In addition to flotation devices, Franke said it's important to have a fire extinguisher signal flares and a horn or whistle. He also said, if you see anyone who might be in distress, immediately call 911.