Mark Twain Lake – Drowning remains the number one cause of death in recreational boating accidents.  Ninety percent of those who drowned are NOT wearing their life jackets.  Saturday, May 19, marked the start of National Safe Boating Week, an annual nationwide event dedicated to raising the awareness of boating safety prior to Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer boating season. The campaign’s theme, “Ready, Set, Wear-It” is designed to emphasize the importance of wearing a life jacket. Water safety must be a top priority for everyone using the nation’s waterways and lakes this summer. An estimated 350 million people visit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas each year. Below are safety tips from the Corps of Engineers to help recreation seekers stay safe in the water over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and into the summer.

Today’s Life Jackets

Gone are the days of bulky orange “horse collar” life jackets. Modern life jackets are available in a wide variety of compact, lightweight, and attractive styles suitable for constant wear. Many are partially or wholly inflatable, and resemble suspenders or even a belt pack. Special varieties are made for anglers, hunters, skiers, and other sports enthusiasts. “If you think about it, a modern life jacket is a lot less restrictive than the automobile lap and shoulder belt most of us wear without a second thought,” says Mary Anne Heitmeyer, Park Ranger at Mark Twain Lake.  “After a few minutes you forget you’re wearing one,” adds Heitmeyer. “But if you happen to be involved in a boating accident, you’ll be very glad it’s on.”

Alcohol and water don't mix

Many drowning fatalities involve alcohol; even 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!

Boaters should take appropriate safety classes, be familiar with governing federal and state laws and have proper safety equipment onboard before boating.  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.

Wear a life jacket; don’t just carry one on board.  Most of those who drown never had the intention of being in the water.  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 and some lakes have adult -wear requirements.

Don't overload the boat (consider boat size, the number passengers, and extra equipment before loading). Check your boat for all required safety equipment. Carry a set of navigational charts on board. Check the weather forecast. File a float plan with family or friends who are not on the vessel.

Swimmers! LEARN TO SWIM WELL!

At U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites, swimming in non-designated areas is the highest (47%) cause for all water-related fatalities nationwide.  Don’t take chances by over-estimating your swimming skills, and swim only in designated swimming areas. Never swim alone.

Watch your children at all times when around the water.  Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for those 1-14 years of age and the third leading cause for those less than 1 and ages 15-24, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Never dive into lakes and rivers. Never rely on toys such as inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat.  Reach or throw a floatation device to help someone in trouble and never approach them in the water unless you are a trained life guard!

Please make your visit to any recreation area a safe and enjoyable one. Taking water safety precautions saves lives – maybe your own.