CONCORD, Mass. – As the July 4th holiday weekend approaches and summer vacation is here for many and the temperatures climb higher, more people will be recreating near or in the water in New England. Now is the time to think about water safety and boating safety. Each year, an average of 3,880 people drown in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, drowning is one of the leading causes of injury death for children, aged 1-4. The Corps water safety campaign “Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns” helps people become more aware of the importance of water safety practices.
For those recreating near or in the water this upcoming holiday weekend or during the summer, they can reduce the chance of a drowning accident just by wearing a life jacket or taking other precautions. From USCG statistics dated May 11, 2018 (most recent information available), of the 658 recreational boating fatalities in 2017, 76 percent were drownings, and 84.5 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. The U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents in 2017. Of those recreational boating-related fatalities, 81 percent involved boat operators who had not received any boating safety instruction. These USGS statistics are available at: www.uscgboating.org/.
The Corps of Engineers, which manages nearly 12 million acres of public lands and waters nationwide, offers safety tips to help recreation seekers and their families stay safe in the water through the summer months.
Alcohol and water activities don't mix
Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor to fatal boating accidents, according to water safety officials. Just one beer can impair balance, vision, judgment and reaction time. Research shows that four hours of boating – exposure to noise, vibration, sun, glare and wind – produces fatigue that simulates drunkenness. Boating fatigue combined with alcohol consumption intensifies the effects of both and increases accident risks.
Boaters should know the rules
There are about 11.9 million recreational vessels registered in the U.S. Boaters should take appropriate safety classes, be familiar with governing state laws and have proper safety equipment onboard before boating. Many states require boater education or boat operator licenses. As an added incentive, many insurance companies offer discounts to boaters who have successfully completed a boating safety course. While boating make sure you wear a life jacket – don't just carry one on board. Make sure life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved and appropriately sized. Most states require children under age 13 to wear life jackets. Know your state law! Don't overload the boat (consider boat size, the number of passengers and extra equipment before loading). Check your boat for all required safety equipment. Carry a set of navigational charts. Follow the manufacturer's suggested procedures before starting the engine. Check the weather forecast and get weather updates, and notices of potential storms. File a float plan with family or friends who are not on the boat so someone will know if you are late to return or missing altogether. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in boating accidents.
Watch your children
Make sure you or someone responsible is watching your children when they are in or near the water. It only takes a child an average of 20 seconds to drown, according to water safety officials. Watch your children at all times when they are around the water. Don’t let them wander very far from the adults and never let them go into the water unless you know it and someone responsible is watching them.
Learn to swim/know your limits
About two-thirds of those who drown never had the intention of being in the water. It makes sense to learn to swim if you will be around water. Never dive into unfamiliar lakes and rivers – the results can be tragic. Never rely on toys such as inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat. Don't take chances by over-estimating your swimming skills. Reach or throw a floatation device to help someone in trouble. Swim only in designated swimming areas and never swim alone. About half of all drowning victims are alone when they drown.
Water safety should be a top priority for everyone using the nation’s waterways and lakes this holiday weekend and through the summer. Millions of people visit Corps recreation areas nationwide annually (corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/). Make your visit to any federal recreation area a safe and enjoyable one. Taking water safety precautions saves lives – maybe even your own.
Federal Recreation Areas in New England
There are numerous opportunities to enjoy recreation at the 31 Corps-managed federal flood risk management protection reservoirs and the Cape Cod Canal in New England this Fourth of July holiday weekend and throughout the summer. Most areas feature small lakes with facilities designed for day use such as picnicking, swimming, boating, fishing and hunting. There also are a few facilities for overnight camping. Most Corps-managed recreation areas in New England are open through the middle of September.
There are beaches and boat ramps available at reservoirs and lakes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. For more information visit the web site at https://www.nae.usace.army.mil/ and select “recreation” and then your state and location on the map to find out which recreation areas are near you or go directly to the recreation webpage at https://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/. More information on what is offered at each location is available from the project website or the park manager.
For campers, the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) takes reservations for campsites at New England District’s campgrounds, as well as nearly 40,000 Corps of Engineers and Forest Service campsites nationwide. The toll free number is (877) 444-6777 and the website is www.recreation.gov.