Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a message for those enjoying Ridgway Reservoir: Use your personal flotation device as required, or risk a ticket.
Watercraft entering state reservoirs must have a life jacket for every person aboard, and kids 12 and younger must be wearing them at all times. These rules also apply to hand-launched craft, such as paddleboards and kayaks, and adults on board must have a personal flotation device with them.
That hasn’t been happening reliably at Ridgway, CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said, and park management will be shifting from educating violators to ticketing them.
“The worry is people just don’t seem to be getting the message,” Lewandowski said Tuesday. “We talk about this every year. I don’t know if they think they’re bulletproof or what, but we still have a lot of people on these hand-launched crafts that aren’t wearing their personal flotation devices (PFDs), or even have them with them.”
In April, a paddleboarder, who fell from her board, had to be rescued by a passing boat; she told the boater that she was barely able to hang onto her board — and, Lewandowski said, she was not wearing a PFD.
Nor were any of the five people who drowned over the weekend at reservoirs across the state, Lewandowski said. According to CPW, two people drowned at Pueblo Reservoir and one each at Dillion, Antero and Chatfield reservoirs.
“The thing we worry about is people who go out and paddleboard,” Lewandowski said.
“A paddleboard is a watercraft. In Colorado, the regulation is if you go on a watercraft, you have to have the equal number of PFDs on board as people. We recommend that you wear your PFD and not leave it on the deck of your board or kayak.”
These crafts can capsize, particularly in high winds, and dump those aboard into icy lake water — the water temperature at Ridgway is 50 to 60 degrees.
“If you fall into water that cold, it doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are, you’re going to get in trouble. We’re really urging people to make sure they wear their PFDs and not just have them on their craft,” Lewandowski said.
He pointed to a drowning on the Grand Mesa two years ago, of a paddleboarder, who fell off his craft. Responders found his PFD on the board.
Life jackets are not fail-safe, but they do even the odds of surviving after falling into deep, cold water.
On Tuesday, a kayaker at Ridgway was blown off course and in her efforts to reach safety, became physically exhausted. She was almost pushed under the boat docks at the marina when CPW staff reached her and pulled her to safety. The woman was wearing a life jacket, Lewandowski said.
“Had she fallen off and not have had the PFD on, she would have really gotten in trouble,” he said.
A ticket for not adhering to PFD regulations comes with a $100 fine; Lewandowski said the hope is the fine will act as a deterrent and get people to take their safety more seriously.
“We are so worried about people ignoring this that we will start writing tickets if people aren’t wearing their life jackets (or when adults don’t have them aboard). We need to reinforce the seriousness of this. Tickets are a method that we will use,” he said.
The park can loan out a limited number of PFDs, which are thoroughly cleaned between users and held for 24 hours after each use, before going back into circulation. Inquire at an entry station or the visitor center.
As a reminder, social distancing and other steps to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus are required at the park.
“The weather has been very hot. A lot of people want to go out to the lake. People still need to observe physical distancing and wear masks when they’re close to a group of people,” Lewandowski said.
“We want people to get outside and take advantage of what we have, but you have to be careful out there."