By Tracy Robillard
SAVANNAH, Ga. - Independence Day is right around the corner, and with it comes one of the busiest times of the year for recreation at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' lakes. With thousands of people expected to visit the lakes this weekend, the Corps reminds the public to play it safe on the water. Here are some important safety tips to consider:
- Wear a properly-fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while in, on, or near the water. According to 2011 data from the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of fatal boating accident victims were not reported as wearing a life jacket. A life jacket is your first line of defense. Don't leave land without it!
- Visitors can borrow a free life jacket for daily use from one of many Corps of Engineers' Life Jacket Loaner boards, located on swim beaches and other day-use areas. Check with the visitor's center for exact locations of Life Jacket Loaner boards or for more information.
- Know the risks of swimming in open water. Swimming in open water is different and more difficult than in a swimming pool. People tire more quickly and are exposed to greater risk due to waves, current, lack of experience, and fatigue. Even the best swimmers can misjudge their skills and abilities while swimming in a lake or river. Conditions can change quickly in open water. Stay within designated swim areas, be cautious of sudden "drop-offs" or underwater hazards, and always swim with a buddy.
- Supervise children at all times. It takes 20 seconds for a child to drown. Don't rely on inflatable pool toys in place of a life jacket. Life jackets are available in multiple children's styles and sizes to ensure a safe fit. To verify if a life jacket is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, check the inside label.
- Know the signs of drowning. Most people assume a drowning person will yell for help. That is not the case. People drown every year within 10 feet of safety because those around them did not recognize the signs of drowning. This is because the four signs of a drowning victim can resemble someone playing in the water. They include the head tilted back, mouth open gasping for air, no yelling or sound, and arms slapping as if trying to climb out of the water. When rescuing someone avoid personal contact with them unless you are a trained lifeguard. Reach out to the victim with an object to keep your distance or throw them a floatation device to pull them to safety.
- Avoid consuming alcohol while on the water. According to 2011 data from the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.
Dangers of carbon monoxide:
- Boaters or those swimming near boats should be aware that combustion engines produce carbon monoxide, which is an odorless, invisible gas known as a silent killer. Carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere in or around boats with combustion engines. It is heavier than air and lighter than water, so it floats on the water's surface.
- Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness. Knowing these signs will help prevent death. Experts recommend installing carbon monoxide detectors on and inside boats with engines. Maintain a fresh circulation of air through and around boats at all times. Avoid areas of your boat where exhaust fumes may be present, such as under or around the boarding platform.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the nation's largest provider of outdoor recreation, managing more than 420 lake and river projects in 43 states. To find a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project near you, visit www.CorpsLakes.us.
Get more water safety tips, public service announcements, and other resources from the North American Safe Boating Campaign at www.safeboatingcampaign.com