Utah County Search and Rescue needs boat for rough-water rescues

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Utah County Search and Rescue wants a Zodiac Pro Open 650 to help with rescue missions on Utah Lake. (Photo courtesy of zodiac-nautica.com)

One stormy night, a family stranded on Utah Lake called for help. Their boat was swamped and broken down, and they couldn’t make it to shore. It was pitch black and raining cats and dogs. Rescuers went out on their jet skis, with 5-foot swells coming over the water crafts. They got the family out, and everyone was OK. But the operation would have been easier and safer if rescuers had a boat they could use in rough water.

So Utah County Sheriff’s Lt. Wally Perschon, who oversees Utah County Search and Rescue, is on a mission to find the right boat. What they’d like is a Zodiac Pro Open 650, which is a 6.5-meter rib boat perfect for rough-water rescues.

“Utah Lake is pretty notorious for having rough water when storms come through because it’s so shallow,” he said. And a lot of boaters on the lake aren’t experienced, or aren’t from the area, so they’re not prepared for the wind. Their boats get swamped and break down, and then they need help.

Utah County Search and Rescue, which is a mostly volunteer group supported by the Sheriff’s Office, averages about 100 calls per year, making it the second-busiest in the state, behind Grand County, Perschon said. Several dozen of those calls are boat rescues. Some of the rescues are simple, like the boat that broke down at American Fork Boat Harbor recently. But others are complex and hazardous, like the nighttime rescue during a storm.

With a boat like the Zodiac, rescuers would be able to communicate with each other during an operation, he said. They’d be able to get victims on board and do CPR or first aid, because the boat has a platform. With a jet ski, victims need to be able to hold on, or they have boards to which they can strap people during a rescue.

Utah County Search and Rescue does have an airboat, which it uses for rescues on the perimeter of the lake, in shallow water, Perschon said. The division got that boat in 2015, but can’t use it in the deeper water.

“The Zodiac is the boat we’ve identified and evaluated to be able to meet our needs and performance,” he said.

The boat will cost about $70,000 with additions of radio and radar. But Utah County’s budget is tight, so they often reach out to businesses and private donors for equipment and other needs. For example, Adobe has donated more than $100,000 over the last few years, including GPS for the 60-plus Search and Rescue volunteers, cold weather gear and more. Volunteers also supply their own equipment, and leave work and their families when they’re called to help.

Perschon said he’s putting out feelers to companies and donors who may want to help the cause. They’d even consider a sponsor on the side of the boat, “whatever it takes to meet this need.”

If you’re interested in helping Utah County Search and Rescue get a rough-water rescue boat, contact Lt. Wally Perschon at wallyp@utahcounty.gov.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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