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Corps emphasizes water safety at federal recreation areas during Memorial Day weekend, summer months

Published May 6, 2014

CONCORD, Mass. – Spring is here and with warmer weather more people will be recreating near or in the water this upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend and through the summer months. Now is the time to start thinking about water safety. Each year, an average of 3,880 people drown in the United States. In fact, drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children aged 1 - 4. Yet, it is possible – just by wearing a life jacket or taking other precautions – to reduce drowning deaths.


In boating-related fatalities in 2012, 73 percent involve boat operators who had not received any boating safety instruction, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. In 2012, of the 651 recreational boating fatalities, nearly 71 percent were drownings, and 85 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. In 2012, the Coast Guard counted 4,515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and approximately $38 million of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. These USGS statistics are available at: http://www.uscgboating.org/ under statistics. Efforts by water safety organizations might be making some progress to reduce accidents and deaths, as Coast Guard statistics indicate that in 1997 there were 8,047 accidents, 4,555 injuries and 821 deaths; and in 1998 there were 8,061 accidents, 4,612 injuries and 815 deaths, both years with many more incidents than reported in 2012.


National Safe Boating Week is May 17-23, 2014. Water safety officials urge everyone to learn more about safe boating practices and always engage in responsible conduct while on the water. America’s rivers, lakes and oceans are excellent places for boaters to gather with family and friends while enjoying the outdoors. As they do so, it is important that individuals avoid risky behavior that can lead to boating accidents. Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors to accidents. Rounding out the top 10 include navigation rules violations, alcohol use, force of wave/wake, weather and hazardous waters.  


To help ensure that individuals stay safe on America’s waterways, the U. S. Coast Guard urges boaters to take basic safety precautions such as wearing a life jacket, participating in a boat safety course, getting a free vessel check, and never boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. By practicing responsible boating habits, people can help contribute to a safer, more enjoyable experience on the water. Here are some safety tips from the Corps to help recreation seekers stay safe in the water at federal recreation areas.


                                                               Watch your children

It only takes a child an average of 20 seconds to drown, according to water safety officials. Watch your children at all times when 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.


                                                Alcohol and water activities don't mix

Alcohol use is a leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Just one beer can impair balance, vision, judgment and reaction time. Research shows that about four hours of boating – with 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

Boaters should take appropriate safety classes, be familiar with governing state laws and have proper safety equipment onboard. Many states require boater education or boat operator licenses. As an added incentive, some 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 it is U.S. Coast Guard-approved and appropriately sized. Most states require children under the age of 13 to wear life jackets. Know your state law! 


Don't overload the boat (consider boat size, number of passengers and extra equipment before loading). Check your boat for all required safety equipment. Carry a set of navigational charts. Check the weather forecast. File a boat plan with family or friends who are not on the vessel so in case something does happen or you are late returning someone will know your approximate whereabouts.


                                                        Learn to swim/know your limits

Surprisingly, about two-thirds of those who drown never had the intention of being in the water. Never dive head first into 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 or give in to peer pressure. Reach or throw a floatation device to help someone in trouble; don't go in the water! Swim only in designated swimming areas. Use the buddy system and never swim alone. About half of all drowning victims are alone when they drown. It’s smart to take swimming lessons and learn to swim.


Water safety must be a top priority for everyone using the nation’s waterways and lakes this upcoming holiday weekend and through the summer. There are an estimated 370 million visits to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas nationwide annually (http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/). Make your visit to any 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 many opportunities to enjoy recreation at federal reservoirs and the Cape Cod Canal in New England this upcoming Memorial Day weekend and through the summer. Most areas feature small lakes with facilities designed for day use such as picnicking, swimming, boating, fishing and hunting. A few facilities have overnight camping. Most Corps-managed recreation areas are open from Memorial Day weekend through mid-September. Beaches and boat ramps are available at reservoirs in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. For details visit the District web site at http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/ and select “recreation” and then your state and nearest location on the map.

Tim Dugan

Release no. 2014-056