The joys of houseboating are vast. But it's extremely important to remember that water is a powerful force. Safety for you and your family should be your number one priority. Recently, a houseboat went under the Dresback Dam near La Crosse, Wis., with 11 people on board. The family was on vacation and now they owe their lives to Mississippi River Rentals employee Marty Neumann, whose quick thinking saved the day.
Neumann had been recently let from his job and picked up a part-time gig as a handyman with the boat rental company one week before the accident. His quick thinking saved this family.
"It all happened so quick," said Neumann to the local new station.
He and his coworker from Mississippi River Rentals were teaching a family of nine how to operate a rented houseboat. Neumann basic responsibilities included keeping the customers happy and warm up the hot tub.
But the houseboat soon had bigger problems than a chilly hot tub.
The boat was just north of Lock & Dam 7 in La Crescent when it lost power.
"Boat stalled out, we couldn't get it back started," said Neumann.
As the strong current pulled the boat toward the dam, his coworker was able to jump onto a nearby concrete ledge to try to tie the boat off.
Neumann was left on board and managed to get the family into their life jackets and onto a runabout they were towing behind the houseboat, hoping to drive it away just in time.
But it was too late.
"Our tow vessel went underneath the houseboat, and then underneath the roller and came up upside-down on the other side," said Neumann. "I remember coming up out of the water and seeing light and just thinking, 'God, I'm going to live.'"
He turned his attention to the family. Half of them didn't know how to swim.
But their life vests brought each one of them up to the surface, close to the capsized runabout.
"And I pulled the little girl up because she was shaking, and panicking and in shock," said Neumann.
A fisherman on a nearby dock rushed over in his pontoon boat and helped pull the family out of the current.
Neumann said he now has a real appreciation for the river's power.
"I've always lived in La Crosse. I've been up and down the river and I know how dangerous this river can be. But it's scary when it happens to you. You never quite think it's going to happen to you," he said.
Life vests were crucial in saving lives last night. La Crescent Fire Chief John Meyer said it's a good reminder for boaters to check whether they have enough onboard for each passenger. He said they should also make sure to have a fire extinguisher, a marine radio and flares in case of an emergency.