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Tragedies are clear warnings

Ken Grissom

The sorrows of two families this past year sound clear warning peals for those of us who will listen:

•Wear a life jacket when the water is cold.

•Slow down when the river’s running.

As of our holiday presstime Saturday, it is still uncertain what happened to Keith Gilcrease — God willing, he is huddled by a fire on the bank somewhere — but experienced boatmen will guess the worst. If it hasn’t happened to us, it’s happened to someone we know. When you are going upstream at 15 or 20 mph and the current is running six or seven knots and you hit a sodden tree trunk coming down just under the surface, that’s like running into a telephone pole at 30 mph in your car. If you’re in a small jonboat, you can easily flip it. Or be thrown from it.

If this happens in the summer and you don’t get run over by your own boat, you might just have an embarrassingly funny story to tell. If it happens in the winter, it’s often a different story.

Back in March, 22-year-old Jonathan Daigle drowned scarcely 10 yards from short at Bayou Benoit. His boat floated off the bank and investigators supposed that he went in after it. The effect called “cold shock” is believed to be the reason the still bayou claimed a strong young swimmer.

The state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is considering new rules requiring anyone in a small outboard-driven craft to wear a life vest at all times when underway.

The commission is also proposing to require operators of tiller-steered outboards on boats up to 25 feet long to use a lanyard if the motor is equipped with a kill switch. The lanyard connects the operator to the switch, which kills the engine if the driver falls overboard or otherwise abandons the controls.

The men and women of LDWF who have seen these tragedies unfold year after year have taken heed of the warning, even if many of us haven’t.

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