High water levels mixed bag for boaters

ESCANABA — Water levels on Lake Michigan have been extremely high this summer — a situation which has created both opportunities and risks for boaters in the area, Delta County Sheriff’s Department (DCSD) Deputy Jon Smith said.

“They’re significantly higher than they have been probably for the last 10 years or more,” he said of these water levels.

Boating has been a particularly popular activity in Delta County over the past few months.

“We are seeing an increase in boat activity this summer over previous summers,” Smith said.

Smith said this increase in popularity is not necessarily due to local water levels. Instead, it is in keeping with past trends.

“It tends to be kind of a cyclical thing, too,” he said.

However, he noted high water levels in the area have given boaters a chance to explore places they otherwise might not have been able to reach.

“They can get into other, more remote locations along the shoreline,” Smith said.

On the other hand, there have been a few recent incidents in which boaters struck underwater hazards that would have been visible in years where water levels in the area were lower.

“We have a had a few boats up on pilings that used to be exposed, and now they’re under the surface of the water,” Smith said.

Fortunately, Smith said there have been no other boating safety problems directly related to these water levels.

“Other than that, we have not had an increase in accidents,” he said.

Smith also shared some general safety tips for people planning to go boating this summer. He urged boaters to make sure that everyone on their boat has a life jacket and to bring communication equipment so they can reach others if things go wrong.

“They should have at least one form of emergency communication,” he said. Smith also said that boaters should contact the police immediately in the event of an emergency.

Jet skis and other types of personal watercraft (PWC) are popular in the area, as well. According to Smith, it is important for people to keep age restrictions related to these vehicles in mind.

“All jet ski or PWC operators born after Dec. 31, 1978, must have (completed) Boater Safety,” he said. Additionally, people born after July 1, 1996, must have completed a boating safety course to operate any type of watercraft. These courses are offered through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.