The UW Lifesaving Station was established in 1909 to provide a lake rescue service for UW-Madison students that frequented the waters of Lake Mendota. Over 100 years later, the UW Lifesaving Station continues to provide a lake safety and rescue operation that serves boaters and swimmers of the UW campus and greater Madison community.
The UW Lifesaving Station maintains a seasonal (April through October) lake watch from its lookout tower/boathouse facility located on the southeast shore of Lake Mendota. The observation tower affords a view of approximately 80% of Lake Mendota's 9,842 acre surface area. Two 31-foot twin-screw rescue launches are maintained to assist boaters. Additionally, the service operates the Memorial Union swim pier, staffed by student lifeguards, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
The rescue service keeps close ties with members of the Hoofer Sailing Club and canoeists from Outdoor Rentals, both located at the Memorial Union. The two groups have formulated a series of agreements to ensure safe boating practices among campus lake users. Depending on the day's weather and lake conditions, boat rentals and user restrictions may be imposed. Hoofer sailors are required to pass a progressive rating system to sail under the day's "flag" conditions as determined by the UW Lifesaving Station. When severe weather is imminent, the UW Lifesaving Station activates a steam whistle and flashing red light system to warn boaters, and conducts a storm warning run around the lake.