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Water safety practices important at federal recreation areas during Memorial Day weekend, summer months

Published May 5, 2015

CONCORD, Mass. – The long harsh winter is yielding to warmer weather and 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 for you and your family. 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. Yet, it is possible – just by wearing a life jacket or taking other precautions – to reduce drowning deaths.

In boating-related fatalities in 2013, 80 percent involve boat operators who had not received any boating safety instruction, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Of the 560 recreational boating fatalities in 2013, nearly 77 percent were drownings, and 84 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. The U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,062 accidents that involved 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and approximately $39 million of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents in 2013. These USGS statistics are available at: www.uscgboating.org/ under statistics. From 1997 - 2013, there were a total of 12,059 reported boating fatalities. The good news is that incidents have been decreasing in recent years. In 1997 there were 8,047 accidents, 4,555 injuries and 821 deaths.

National Safe Boating Week is May 16-22, 2015. 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, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Rounding out the top 10 include alcohol use, navigation rules violation, force of wave/wake, hazardous waters and weather.

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

There are more than 12 million recreational vessels in the U.S. 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! The Coast Guard reports that 22 children under the age of 13 lost their lives while boating in 2013.

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 (corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/). Make your visit to a recreation area a safe and enjoyable one. Water safety precautions save 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 www.nae.usace.army.mil/ and select “recreation” and then your state and nearest location on the map.

Tim Dugan

Release no. 2015-044