By Tracy Robillard, Public Affairs Specialist
So far this year, four people lost their lives to drowning at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Savannah River. Sadly, these victims never returned home to their loved ones after a day at the lake.
All of these tragedies happened since Memorial Day, all while swimming, and unfortunately, none of the four victims were wearing a life jacket.
This Labor Day weekend as thousands of people visit the lakes, keep the most important safety tip at the forefront of your mind: Always wear a properly-fitted, U. S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when you’re in, on, or around the water.
While another day at the lake for these four victims started like many others, the outcome brought unexpected grief.
At Hartwell Lake, a middle-aged man drowned while swimming across a cove to retrieve fishing gear that had floated away. Once he reached the other side, he collapsed and drowned.
At Russell Lake, a woman in her late 20s drowned while swimming outside a designated area late at night.
At Thurmond Lake, a man in his early 20s was wading in water around the shoreline in an undesignated swim area. He stepped into a steep drop-off and drowned. The next day, a man in his mid-20s drowned while swimming with friends trying to reach a buoy.
Wearing a life jacket is your first line of defense for water safety. But why don’t people do it? According to the National Safe Boating Council, these are the top 5 excuses:
- “I’m a strong swimmer.” Even a strong swimmer needs to wear a life jacket. Strong swimmers get tired, too. During an emergency, clothing can become heavy or waterlogged while in the water. Also, being a strong swimmer doesn’t help if an accident results in disorientation or unconsciousness.
- “I have life jackets on board.” Having life jackets on board the vessel is not enough. Accidents happen too fast to put on a stowed life jacket.
- “It’s too hot and doesn’t look cool.” Old-fashioned, bulky orange life jackets have been replaced with new styles, like inflatable life jackets that may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. These are much cooler in the warmer weather.
- “It gets in the way.” There are life jacket styles available for any recreational water activity – fishing, swimming, water sports, hunting, paddling and more. There are even styles for pets!
- “Nothing is going to happen to me.” Face it, accidents happen. Water recreation can be a fun, safe and enjoyable activity, but when the “Wear It!” message is ignored, the consequences can be grim.
In addition to wearing a life jacket, here are some other important safety tips:
- Only swim in designated areas. Swimming in a lake is much different than a pool, because there’s always potential for sudden, steep drop-offs and unseen dangers below.
- Be aware that swimmers commonly underestimate distances. A buoy across the lake always appears closer than it actually is.
- Avoid alcohol while on the water. It’s a leading contributing factor to drowning.
- Attach the life jacket lanyard to the kill switch when driving the boat. You can’t stop a runaway boat if you’re thrown in the water, especially if you get knocked unconscious.
The Corps has lifejacket loaner boards at swimming areas at all three lakes. Contact the visitor centers at Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond lakes to find the one nearest you.
For more water safety information, visit the Safe Boating Council website at http://www.safeboatingcampaign.com/