Four drownings within 10 days at Lake Pueblo earlier this summer raised serious questions about both unsafe behavior and safety enforcement there.
KRDO hit the water with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Friday to see what park rangers would find on a typical patrol.
Ranger Joe Portteus says it never takes long to find opportunities to educate visitors.
His first contact on Friday afternoon was with a family using pool tubes without life jackets.
He explained to the family that at the lake, life jackets are required with those tubes.
Lake Pueblo is by far the most popular state park in Colorado, with more than 4.6 million visitors in 2021, more than enough to keep park rangers busy.
CPW keeps two boats at the marina, and most of the time a pair of rangers makes the rounds on each.
They make sure every ski boat has a driver and an observer, and that someone raises an orange flag to signal whenever a skier is down.
They also monitor for people illegally jumping off cliffs, but more than anything else, they are on the lookout for life jackets.
Nearly all drowning victims across Colorado this year were not wearing one.
Portteus believes most people, especially those near the shore, simply aren’t aware of the rules.
“I was stopping to see if you had any life jackets onboard,” he asked a woman sitting on a paddleboard near the Sailboard Beach section of the lake.
“I don't," she replied.
“Just take it back and get one. It is required on a paddleboard," he explained.
While adults on paddleboards or any type of boat simply have to have a life jacket with them, children under 13 have to wear them at all times or else their parents will face a citation.
"There will be a handful of tickets every weekend, for more serious violations, or for violations that kind of compound. Anytime we see kids with no life jackets, that's an automatic ticket," says Portteus.
It’s not just the law that motivates the 6-year ranger at Lake Pueblo to intervene.
In his time there, he has seen plenty of tragedies firsthand.
When a husband and wife drowned at the end of May, it was Joe who helped rescue the 11 survivors, many of them children.
“You go to sleep at night thinking about those kind of contacts,” he says.
“You never want to see children get hurt, especially when it's something potentially preventable. And luckily that day, no kids were hurt."
Ironically, Portteus suspects the numerous headlines about recent drownings might have had an impact of safety compliance, with very few people on Friday not abiding by life jacket regulations.
There were also no egregious violations, so no citations were issued on this particular patrol.
Portteus believes most people do want to follow the rules, but for those that don’t, he and the other rangers have no problem taking additional action.
His biggest tip for boaters is to pay attention to the weather before heading out on the water, and while at the lake, because conditions can become dangerous very quickly.