Periodically real-life events take place that you are fully prepared for… Until you aren’t. On Oswego Lake it is easy to take water safety for granted. We enjoy an intimate 450-acre lake surrounded by friends and neighbors and patrolled by experienced staff. We all have life jackets and other prerequisite boating safety items on our boats and take comfort in that as shareholders and easement members we are in full control of our environment.
Recently I was out with friends, my wife and my big black dog. Little did I think that the evening would be a stark reminder that when things go wrong on the water, they can go terribly wrong very fast. My 100+ lbs. big, black dog was in the bow as usual. She tried to drink from the lake as we idled very near the Lake Corp. office. (Pretty routine stuff). Then I saw her fall into the water as I piloted the boat. (Not routine). This fall into the lake was much unexpected as she had been on boats dozens of times since being a puppy last year. We were on Oswego Lake, what could really go wrong?
Problem #1 - My dog has not learned how to swim, Problem #2 – my dog did not have a life jacket on. No problem, I thought to myself. I was once a professional lifeguard and even taught students to be lifeguards and taught WSI – Water Safety Instruction as a TA at my university a lifetime ago. But, I broke all the rules… Life Saving 101: Reach, Throw, Row and then Go. Bad decisions have consequences.
Very quickly the dog was too far away to reach, and I could not throw a floatation device with any effect to a dog. So, I thought “just drive in, grab her collar and tow her back to the swim platform”. I dove off my boat with great urgency as she struggled to keep her head above water. Diving in quickly was a very bad decision. A big black dog in full panic-mode does not want to be towed back to a swim platform. She just wanted to climb up on me. As I struggled for control it became clear that my passengers were ill prepared to quickly assist. No one was familiar with my boat. Nobody else could easily pilot my boat and quickly get the boat close to either of us. They did not know how to open the hatch where life jackets were… These same life jackets also buried the round life preserver and throw line. 100 feet from the closest dock may have well been one mile. Fortunately, Lake Patrol was near-by, heard the commotion and was able to assist. Lake Patrol being near was a very-good-thing. Things were not going well in the water for me and the dog because actions were not happening quickly enough on my boat.
Happy ending; Dog is fine, and I was left with enough good-deep cuts and scratches to remind me that poor judgment and execution has a consequence.
I hope that this short story can be a helpful reminder regarding water safety. Oswego Lake is like any other big body of water. Passengers on your boat should know where life jackets and other safety items are kept and how to access them. You and others should know how to quickly, smoothly maneuver your boat to get very near any person, boat or dog that requires assistance. Always remember: Reach, Throw, Row and then Go. Again, personally going into the water to save someone is the last thing you should do no matter your skills or level of fitness. But if going into the water is necessary take a few seconds to put on a life jacket first and bring a second jacket or other floatation device with you.
PostScript: Online pricing for high quality Extra-Large dog life jackets is less expensive than the human life jackets you have on your boat.