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What happens to a boat or a ship (a sailing vessel of more than a hundred feet) out in troubled waters too deep or rough to swim in yet shallow enough to toss an anchor in to wait out the difficulties without being thrown on a rocky shore if it does not have an anchor?  A “sea anchor” will work in deep waters far from shore, where a sail or some other large floating object is thrown overboard with a long line attached to it.  The drogue floating “anchor” will force the vessel it is attached to drag behind it since the object down in the water is not exposed to the bite of the stormy winds passing over it.  The lack of an anchor can also cause people to die, or at least the lack of using one if there is one.

There wasn’t an anchor aboard the boat rented from a local purveyor last week.  It seems that most of the renters of boats in Lake Geneva do not provide anchors, do not allow for the use of them if renters bring them along, and so state that fact in their rental contracts. Recently, a group from out of town rented a boat from Marina Bay and things went terribly wrong. The day ended tragically with the death of a forty-year-old male aboard that boat. The victim drowned while swimming near the rental pontoon craft out in the lake. The boat drifted away in the wind as the victim swam nearby. When the swimmer began to struggle, the boat was too far for him to reach and the other people on the boat could not operate the controls quick enough to get to him, and that brings up the question of anchors.

Why was the boat not anchored? Why do some boat rental companies not require every boat to have an anchor? Life jackets are required for every passenger and are strongly encouraged to be used when jumping off the boat for a dip in the lake. Of course, the boat rentals have a set of rules and requirements to follow when it comes to safety and boating just as any commercial company would. The guidelines in the Wisconsin DNR boating handbook, and the Coast Guard, have laws and guidelines for all boaters, and anchors are not required on commercial boats of less than twenty-seven feet in length.

The Lake Geneva Harbor Master has been a lake resident for her entire life and takes safety seriously, stating: “It should be common practice to always have life jackets, mooring lines, and an anchor on every boat, even if it is not a requirement.” The boat rental companies have a huge responsibility and obligation to not only provide this equipment but also take the time out to explain and demonstrate what to do and how to handle emergencies. It has been witnessed that this is not always being done, even when it comes to something as obvious as supplying a life jacket to every person occupying a boat. A day relaxing on the lake and enjoying life should not be finished with the end of a life. Would the boat renters have thrown an anchor overboard if they had one before anyone went into the water is one question that could be asked.

Nobody knows, or will ever know.  If they had thrown one in, if the boat had had an anchor, then the results of what happened would not be written about here. Since the incident that cost this boater his life occurred in fourteen feet of water, it is likely the anchor would have been most effective in saving his life. Now, the next question naturally follows; should rental boats be required to have anchors or at least allow them?

This question generates another; what kind of liability will the courts assign when this case, and it will very likely be a legal case, when a jury looks at the facts, the contract, the boat rental company, and the conduct of everyone involved? What will it conclude?  What kind of liability might extend to the community that leases the property where the boats are rented from?


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