Summer is just a few weeks away, which means boating season is about to kick into full gear. The City of Fort Wayne is being proactive to ensure safety around low-head dams along the St. Joseph and Maumee rivers.
The decision to implement the new safety measures was determined by seven groups after the death of kayaker Sean Hiebel last June, after capsizing over the Hosey Dam.
30 signs and buoys will be installed on bridges and riverbanks near the St. Joseph, Hosey Street and Leo Cedarville dams in an effort to promote greater awareness while in use.
The Tri-State Watershed Alliance was one of the groups involved in the effort. On a boat ride Wednesday, Alliance executive director Dan Wire says having vibrant warning signs in plain sight should improve the awareness of anyone using the rivers.
“Here, it’s really critical that we catch them visually coming down, and I think we’ve got the places that their eyes will do nothing but see the signs when they’re coming down,” Wire said.
Wire knows how dangerous the rivers can be near dams. He drives a power boat which, while seemingly safe, still carries its own set of dangers. He says preparedness is key.
“If you find yourself in a precarious situation, give yourself enough time to react,” Wire says. “If you’ve got ground tackle, an anchor to throw out to halt your forward progress, that can help. Having a paddle on board, that certainly helps; the rivers are on average about 150 wide, so it’s not too much to try to get to one side or the other.”
He also says having extra line is beneficial, especially if a Good Samaritan is nearby. “It’s like somebody saying, ‘Well, my car’s dead, do you have jumper cables?’”
Warning signs are not required by law, but the Fort Wayne area will be the first Hoosier community to install signs to promote safety. Some existing warning signs -- like those above the Tecumseh Street Bridge -- will be replaced with newer, brighter ones.