I-TEAM: CT Boating Deaths: 4-year-old drowns after DEEP says he was wearing wrong type of life jacket; safety tips for boaters inside

Drowning protections ahead of boating season
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 7:28 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(WFSB) - Nine people died in boating accidents on Connecticut waterways in 2022, the highest number since 2017.

In one of those cases, a 4-year-old died after officials say he was wearing the wrong kind of life jacket.

Chief Investigative Reporter Sam Smink went out on the water with DEEP to learn exactly what you can and can’t do out there.


It’s Jacob Budris’ job, to make sure you know the rules on CT’s lakes, rivers, ponds and Long Island Sound.

Budris works with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“A life jacket is always required, no matter what the vessel in CT,” says Budris.

Under Connecticut law, anytime you hit the water, whether in a boat or kayak, there must be a life jacket available for every person.

During cold water months, from October 1st to May 31st, if you’re in a manually propelled vessel like a kayak or canoe, you must be wearing one.

Children under 12 are always required to have a lifejacket on.

”A life jacket is definitely going to enhance your chances of surviving any kind of hazardous situation on the water,” says Budris.

In five of the nine boating fatalities in 2022, the person who died was not wearing a life jacket.

But in the case of a 4-year-old who drowned last April after the family’s canoe flipped over -- he was wearing one.

The family told DEEP they were traveling NW on Wyassup Lake in North Stonington in a canoe, when it became difficult to paddle, because of the “current caused by windy conditions.”

While attempting to turn around, the canoe capsized. The parents and their 2 children were thrown overboard.

The 4 year old did not survive.

Unfortunately, DEEP’s report says the vest he was wearing was not meant to be used for boating, because it does not protect against drowning - and was not Coast Guard approved. 

The child was wearing what’s called a Type V personal flotation device. The family had been renting an AirBnB and said they found the vests in a shed with other boating supplies.

It’s a life jacket, usually inflatable, that is not designed to turn an unconscious person face up, so it will not protect against drowning. In their report, DEEP says “Type V is not an all purpose flotation device.”

“They’re not quite rated for impact, so if you were to fall into the water going at a high speed, there’s a good chance it won’t be able to stay on your body,” says Budris. 

When wearing most types of Type V PFDs, if anything goes wrong, you’re in charge of inflating it yourself. It’s similar to what airline attendants ask you to do in case a life jacket is needed.

In Connecticut, inflatables cannot be used by persons under 16 years of age, persons under 90 pounds, or for high speed water sports such as water-skiing or Personal Watercraft operation or riding.

When selecting a life jacket, Budris read the label, to make sure it is made for a person your size and weight. You also need to consider what activity you will be doing, and by law, it has to be Coast Guard approved.

”You can definitely find one that’s best for your situation,” says Budris.


In April 2022, two men drowned on Long Island Sound near Shippan Point in Stamford after their boat capsized.

Two other men survived.

They told DEEP they were traveling north back to shore due to rough seas when their boat became overwhelmed by water and sank, leaving all 4 occupants in the water.

The men had planned to fish 1 mile from where they launched when after about 20 minutes he “realized there was a problem.” Winds at the time were 21 MPH, according to DEEP’s report.

The operator then stated that they moved about 50 feet before the vessel sank underneath them straight down.

All four men were wearing life jackets, but were in the water for one hour before being rescued. The two men died of hypothermia.

“Weather, that’s a critical thing you always want to be checking before you go in the water. You want to make sure you’re aware of the weather, aware of the conditions of the day, you want to make sure you’re prepared for the conditions and also that you have the right boat, the right vessel,” says Budris.

If you are not a frequent boater, Budris says there’s an unwritten rule for deciding when to go out.

“A good rule of thumb to have is the wind speed and the length of your vessel,” says Budris. “If you have a 15-foot boat, and the wind is going to be blowing at 15 mph, that’s a day you don’t want to go out on the water.”

As for what else we learned reading the fatality reports? Not one vessel had a safety check within the past year.

The US Coast Guard does safety checks, as well as seasonal employees working at state boat launches. They will check for life jackets, registration, navigation lights and other necessary emergency equipment.

In the Shippan Point fatalities, the vessel was not registered. There were life jackets/PFDs but no additional safety gear on board.

“I would highly recommend that if you’re a boater, get a safety check and even if you think you know everything, double check that all your equipment is up to date and that you have everything,” says Budris.

The owner/operator was also issued an Infraction for Violation for Operation of an Unregistered Vessel and Operation of a Vessel without a safe boating certificate. 


In at least three of the accidents, alcohol was involved.

“Unfortunately a lot of people associate drinking and going out on the water and the two should never mix,” says Budris.   

In May, a 24 year old drowned on Candlewood Lake after jumping off a friend’s boat into the water.

Officials say he had a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of .110. He could swim, but was not wearing a PFD.

According to DEEP’s report, he went into the water from the bow and did not resurface.

The 23 year old operator of the boat was also under the influence, according to DEEP’s report. He was charged with illegal operation of a boat without a certificate or vessel operator license.

In August, a boat crash on Long Island Sound near Stonington killed two people.

David Motherway Junior and his friend Brian Collie from Colorado were killed back in August when their boat struck a break wall.

Junior was a member of the board of finance in Stonington.

DEEP’s report on the crash shows that he was twice the legal limit when he died and had THC in his system.

When two jet skis crashed on Quaddick Lake near Thompson in August, killing one person, investigators say alcohol played a part.


In one drowning, officials say the 34 year old could not swim. They say his kayak overturned on the water in Quonnipaug Lake.

According to witnesses he was not wearing a life jacket.

Family say he lost his paddle, stood up to retrieve it, and fell into the water.

According to DEEP, he had some experience with kayaks before but he couldn’t swim.

He was in 8-10 feet of water and had been under the water for over an hour and a half, before he was pulled out.

Free swim lessons are available in CT: click here.


It’s also a good idea to have a vessel identification sticker.

So if your boat or kayak is found, and you’re not in it, authorities will know who to contact, and make sure you are okay.

The “If Found” sticker for human-propelled (kayaks, canoes, standup paddle boards) and other non-registered boats was designed to help save lives, recover missing property, and reduce the time, effort and resources expended on non-emergency search and rescues.

To get one, you can go here: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Boating/Safety/If-Found-Sticker