Boating is safe ­ and getting safer in S.D.

Boating is safe � and getting safer in S.D. While the number of boat registrations has increased in South Dakota over the past two decades, boater fatalities have decreased for that same period.

"Although boat registrations increased from 36,396 in 1986 to 51,198 in 2001, boater fatalities markedly decreased over that same period," said Bill Shattuck, boating safety specialist for South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. "A study of the 16-year period 1986 through 2001 showed an average of 1.94 boater fatalities per year. However the 10-year period from 1986 through 1995 averaged 2.60 yearly fatalities, while the six years since have seen the rate drop to 0.84 fatalities per year."

Shattuck attributes much of the credit for the improving record to the professionalism of the state's conservation officers in their enforcement of required safety equipment rules and for cracking down on reckless operation of those who would operate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

"Most people are well aware of the department's role in managing and preserving South Dakota's wildlife resources. Less well known is the department's public safety role," he noted. "The boaters of South Dakota deserve a lot of the credit as well."

Following the construction of the Missouri River reservoirs, most of the state's boaters had a lot to learn, and the boats and equipment available at the time were not always up to the task of operating on big water. Since that time, boats, equipment and facilities have greatly improved, but the boating skills of most of the state's boaters have improved even more. Better equipment, together with the knowledge and skills built over time, are helping to make boating safer than it has ever been, Shattuck said.

Boaters have also been taking advantage of boater safety courses available from Game, Fish and Parks and Coast Guard Auxiliary, including the state's free independent study Boating Basics course, which is available from GFP offices and by mail from Boating Basics, 412 West Missouri Ave., Pierre, SD 57501.

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