Warm weather has returned, and across the Midlands, lakes provide a much-valued opportunity to get away from it all and relax. Nebraska boat registrations top 78,000. Iowa’s total exceeds 230,000, with more than 300,000 acres of surface water for boating.
But in both states, too many people take a risk by drinking while operating a boat or personal watercraft. Intoxication, authorities report, is a common factor in Midlands boating accidents and injuries.
Nebraska and Iowa both send a needed message by setting the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for boating at .08, the same as for operation of a motor vehicle. Responsible Midlanders understand the danger of drinking and driving. The same should apply for boating.
Accident reports in the Midlands often indicate an additional failing: people who operate a boat without first taking the state-mandated safety course. These waterborne vehicles travel at high speeds and frequently encounter other people on the water. It’s imperative that boat operators act responsibly and inform themselves on safety practices, for their own sake and that of others. Information on the Nebraska course is at outdoornebraska.gov/boatereducation/. For Iowa: iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Boating/Boater-Education.
All boaters have an obligation to properly clean their watercraft to guard against spreading invasive species. Concern over zebra mussels — which spread with alarming speed and in many parts of the country have clogged municipal water systems — has increased in the Midlands in recent years. The private operators of Cunningham Lake in Omaha are considering closing the lake to most outside boating to reduce the chances of a re-infestation by zebra mussels. Operators drained Cunningham Lake in 2018 after mussels were discovered there. Omaha’s Zorinsky Lake was drained for the same reason in 2010.
Personal safety and respect for the environment should provide abundant reason for Midlands boat operators to fully meet their obligations. It’s good to have fun on the water, but it’s important to do so responsibly.