Three men and a teenage boy whose boat capsized June 25 on Lake Erie have their life jackets to thank for their lives.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Avon Lake Fire Department used the incident to remind boaters about safety precautions as activity on Lake Erie ramps up, especially with the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Carl Willis, a search and rescue specialist for the Coast Guard in Cleveland, said the rescue off Avon Lake was notable because the boaters were prepared when the boat capsized.
“This was a significant case,” Willis said. “Everyone wearing their life jackets probably saved their lives.”
Members of the Lorain branch of the Coast Guard rescued the three men and the teen from Lake Erie in less than an hour after the 911 Dispatch Center received a distress call from one of the men on board about 1:20 p.m., said Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson and Avon Lake Fire Chief Jeremy Betsa.
The group had gone out to fish, Betsa said.
The boat had started filling with water and the man driving the boat told the Coast Guard that it was “swamped with water over the stern,” and the pump that removes water from the boat could not keep up, Steenson said.
The boat then overturned, leaving the driver and three passengers in the cold water until the Coast Guard started pulling them out about 2 p.m., according to the Fire Department. Current temperatures in western Lake Erie are around 70 degrees, Willis said.
The Coast Guard did not have names, ages or other information about the four people. Betsa said they were not from Lorain or Cuyahoga counties, but a county south of here.
Avon Lake and Sheffield Lake EMT personnel checked the four, who were transported back to the Miller Road Park pier, from which they had departed earlier that day. There were no injuries. It wasn’t known how far out in the lake they were, Steenson said.
The man who called 911 stayed on the line with the dispatcher, and the Coast Guard called in a helicopter from its Detroit station to help locate the boaters in the water, Betsa said.
“This was an event that unfolded quickly for the boaters,” Betsa said. “By wearing their life jackets, they were able to remain buoyant in the water and that helped locate them. When you go out on the water, don’t just take your life jacket — wear it. Had they not been wearing their life jackets, the outcome might’ve been different.”
Willis and Mike Baron, a Coast Guard boating safety specialist, also of the District 9 office in Cleveland, did not have specific search and rescue numbers for Lake Erie on the west side of Cleveland. But Willis said the Coast Guard averages about 2,500 search and rescues annually in the Great Lakes region.
The number is down about 150 from a year ago. Willis attributed that number to fewer boaters getting on Lake Erie this year because of the heavy rains. However, he expects activity to increase as the rains slow down and the temperatures get warmer.
Steenson encouraged people who go out on potentially rough waters to take safety measures.
Everyone should have life jackets, functioning radios and communications equipment, signal flares and flotation devices, she said. They also should dress for the circumstances.
“The temperatures on the lake still are considered cold,” she said. We recommend that you dress for water temperatures, not for air temperatures.”
Willis advised boaters to tell someone staying on land about their plans. That person can tell the Coast Guard where to look for the boaters if they don’t return when expected.
Steenson recommended boaters use the United States Coast Guard app and find the boating safety link for their state. The app has a red button to click on for emergencies, she said.
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