New rescue boat can cope with shallow water

Craig Moorhead/The Caledonia Argus  Chief Deputy Travis Lapham and Houston County Sheriff Mark Inglett with the new shallow water rescue boat.
Craig Moorhead/The Caledonia Argus
Chief Deputy Travis Lapham and Houston County Sheriff Mark Inglett with the new shallow water rescue boat.

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On the eastern edge of Houston County, the Mississippi River offers a vast playground for pleasure boaters, fishermen, and hunters. Unfortunately, untold miles of shallow sloughs and wetlands can be difficult to access in an emergency.

When a boater gets hurt in an accident, suffers a heart attack, stroke, or has some other medical emergency, minutes matter. Lack of treatment can be life threatening. Being able to reach a victim is the first thing that needs to happen. That’s where a new specially-equipped boat recently acquired by the Houston County Sheriff’s Department fits in.

Purchased with grant funding, the new search and rescue craft is capable of getting into (and out of) very thin water. It went into action last week.

“We should have had this kind of equipment for many years, considering the waters we’ve got to cover,” Sheriff Mark Inglett said. “When you get south of Brownsville, the majority of our waterways are sloughs and backwaters. The main channel is way to the east, so we don’t have so much recreational boat traffic. But we still have hunters and fishermen… Then when you get down to Millstone Landing all you see is small flat bottom boats, canoes, and kayaks.”

The new boat measures 18 ½ feet long, and is powered by a 37 horsepower “Mud Buddy” surface drive motor. It’s based in Brownsville, near an incredibly well-used section of the Big Muddy.

“You have to respect that river,” Inglett said, “It can swallow your life.”

Craig Moorhead/The Caledonia Argus  The Mud Buddy surface drive that makes shallow water access possible.
Craig Moorhead/The Caledonia Argus
The Mud Buddy surface drive that makes shallow water access possible.

“I was going through six inches of water when I took it out for a test drive,” Chief Deputy Travis Lapham reported. “You can pretty much go right through mud – not that it’s recommended – but it’s pretty unbelievable.”

“There are miles and miles of backwaters,” Inglett noted. “And this boat is big enough that you could have a couple personnel on it, and still easily have room to fit a backboard in the  middle of the boat with a victim on it.

“Typically, what we’ve done in the past is transport an injured person back to the main shore where they can be loaded into either a conventional or an air ambulance. Whatever the need is.

“It’s got a large LED spotlight in the front of the boat, and we have a 3000 pound winch on the front as well, so that if we have to, we can get ourselves out of a bad area, or we could use it to pull another boat out of an area. For example, if you had another boat that was capsized, that equipment could definitely come in handy,” Inglett stated.

And there’s more to be said for being able to get through the shallows, chief deputy Travis Lapham said. “Now we can legitimately go out on the Root River if we had to…” he noted. “I think the Mississippi kind of overshadows how many people actually use the Root River. A lot of people go out with canoes, tubes, or kayaks. You just don’t think about it so much because everyone is so focused on the Mississippi.

The first chore for the new rescue boat was a sad one, when Houston County Sheriff’s Posse members assisted crews from Wisconsin that were hunting for a man who was presumed to have drowned. That search and recovery mission centered on the Swift Creek area south of the Cass Street bridge, near the City of La Crosse.

“I was happy to be able to send our posse members over there,” Inglett said. “For two days in a row we had members out… (and) our boat was the most user-friendly one to get back there. Some of the larger boats that La Crosse County had were not able to get back into those waters.

“We do share the waterways, so when agencies such as La Crosse County or the La Crosse Fire Department ask for our assistance, I think it’s important that we provide that. There will come a day when we’re going to need their assistance.

“To me it’s important that we’re improving the services that we can provide to the public, and I really feel that we’re increasing their safety out there with this type of boat.