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Colorado changes boating law after deadliest year on water

In 2022, 42 people died on Colorado's rivers, lakes and reservoirs -- a record high and nearly double the previous year's number.

BRIGHTON, Colo. — A hazy Saturday afternoon didn't stop boaters from enjoying the water at Barr Lake State Park northeast of Denver, and park rangers checking for life jacket compliance weren't far behind.

After Colorado's deadliest year on the water in 2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife urged boaters to take safety precautions to avoid a similarly deadly summer this year. 

Last year, 42 people died on the state's rivers, lakes and reservoirs -- a record high and nearly double the number of deaths of 2021. Most of the deaths in 2022 were swimmers or people on paddleboards and kayaks, CPW said.

"We’ve really seen an increase in paddle sports over the last few years, especially during COVID," Barr Lake State Park Manager Michelle Seubert said. "The weather can come up and you’re paddling and you don’t think that it’s going to take a lot to get across the lake, but it can."

Motorboats weren't as deadly, but the state passed a law earlier this year requiring anyone under 18 to take a boater safety course before they can drive a boat. Previously, only people under 16 had to take the course. The new law goes into effect June 1, 2024. 

Seubert said it is especially important to be aware of dangers early in the season. 

"The wind and the weather can change in a minute, and right now water temperatures at lakes across Colorado are at mid-50s, low-50s, so hypothermia can set in quite quickly," she said.

The cold water makes it tough to maneuver to put on a life jacket if you fall out of a boat, she warned. With increased snowpack and lots of rain this spring, Seubert said rivers are running fast and high -- adding to the danger. 

"We’ve seen more rain and weather than we’ve had in years," she said.

A CPW spokesperson said the state has also partnered with the National Weather Service at its most visited state park -- Lake Pueblo -- to provide more advanced weather alerts on the water.

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