Editor’s Note: This post is written by Joe Melton, a natural resource program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. A former park ranger, Joe now oversees the District’s water safety program for lakes Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond.
As the Independence Day weekend rapidly approaches, the temperatures are soaring and the lakes are full. Everyone is seeking ways to cool off, and many are dying to get back on the lake—but for some the dying part is literal.
There have been four recreation fatalities on the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah River lakes this fiscal year, and all of them were preventable.
Everyone should follow these three tips for a safe day at the lake. Failure to follow these is directly attributable to reoccurring causes of fatalities on our lakes.
- Wear a life jacket. It is the easiest thing to do and yet more than 95 percent of the people who drowned on our lakes were not wearing one. Swimming, falling off a dock, or falling off a boat are all common actions that lead to drowning—but drowning could be prevented in most cases if the victim simply had worn a life jacket. Parents, set a good example for your kids and wear one. Young people, encourage each other to wear one; it will not ruin your tan. Fishermen, I guarantee you can still cast as far and catch just as many fish wearing one than without. If you don’t have a life jacket, you can borrow one from our many life jacket loaner boards in our parks or ask a park ranger or attendant.
- Don’t swim out to buoys. There are multiple hazards under the water that you will never see –tree stumps, old bridges, drop-offs, and rocks. Don’t jump off bridges or swim out to the many buoys floating around the lake. First off, it is illegal and could get you fined, and second it is unsafe. We have many designated swim beaches around the lake for your use. Please use them. If you swim outside of these areas or decide to play off a dock, you have no idea what is under the water. You could step in a drop-off and find yourself inhaling water, or jump off a dock and hit an old pile of concrete dumped in the lake 20 years ago.
- Know how to operate your boat or personal water craft properly. Did you know that lakes Hartwell and Thurmond consistently rank in the top 10 lakes nationwide with the most visitors? There are a lot of people on the lake every day during the peak recreation season. Knowing the ‘rules of the road’ with navigating and operating your water craft properly are essential to maintain a safe environment on the lake. Take a safe boating course (most are free) and operate your water craft responsibly.
Each day, especially weekends and holidays, a dedicated group of park rangers and volunteers canvass the lakes to remind people about water safety. They are not out there to harass you and probably would rather be enjoying the lake instead of wearing a hot uniform; but they feel that pushing water safety is a worthy cause, even if it saves just one life. If you are approached by one of these individuals, please listen to the message and take it to heart.
We want everyone to enjoy time at the lake. Please use it responsibility. Consider the consequences of your actions and look out for each other.
~Joe Melton, Natural Resources Program Manager and Water Safety Coordinator