Have fun—but be safe—on the water
The headlines are always among the most tragic each summer.
“Man drowns in Lake Lanier Sunday night,” a local media outlet reports. And another, “Two airlifted after boating incident on Lake Burton.”
What begins as a fun day on the water in the summer can end with injury or death.
But there are plenty of ways to protect yourself and your family to keep those fun days on the lake fun this summer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates an average of 3,536 people in the U.S. die from drowning each year, a number that includes all non-boating related drownings, not just lake-related deaths. Another 332 people die each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.
“Most children ages 1 to 4 drown in home swimming pools,” the CDC reports. “The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans, increases with age. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings.”
Among the top risk factors for drowning listed by the CDC are lack of swimming ability, lack of close supervision, location, failure to wear life jackets and alcohol risks.
Learn to swim.
Whether swimming in the lake or boating, knowing how to swim is crucial for safety.
Wear a life jacket.
Life jackets are the key to safety on and around the water.
The Safe Boating Campaign reports that 80 percent of boating deaths are due to drowning and 83 percent of victims are not wearing life jackets.
And, two-thirds of drowning victims were considered to be good swimmers.
The CDC estimates that potentially half of all boating deaths could be prevented by using a life jacket.
And “life jacket” means a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
“Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as "water wings", "noodles", or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets,” the CDC advises. “These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.”
Many locations offer life jackets for those planning days on the lake who do not have one.
A kiosk at Tugaloo State Park’s megaramp on Lake Hartwell was dedicated in 2015 by the Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Organization. The group was founded by the Keese family after Brian and his son Nathan drowned while fishing in Missouri.
Life jackets are available at the kiosk for visitors to use for the day and return when they are done.
Georgia state law requires everyone on board a boat must have a life jacket available to them. Children under age 13 must wear a life jacket at all times.
Many marinas also offer free loaner life jackets for lake visitors who do not have them.
Don’t swim alone.
“’Buddy up!’ That's what swimming instructors say,” an article from kidshealth.org states. “Always swim with a partner, every time — whether you're swimming in a backyard pool or in a lake. Even experienced swimmers can become tired or get muscle cramps, which might make it difficult to get out of the water. When people swim together, they can help each other or go for help in case of an emergency.”
Knowing CPR or having a buddy with those skills can also be important.
“CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims,” according to the CDC. “The more quickly CPR is started, the better the chance of improved outcomes.”
Swim in safe areas and know what to do if things go bad.
Experts suggest that swimmers look out for dangerous waves and be careful to only dive in areas known to be safe.
Watch out for yourself.
Swimmers should be aware of their own physical abilities as well.
Those with seizure disorders should be especially careful and wear life jackets.
Knowing your limitations is also important.
“If you're not a good swimmer or you're just learning to swim, don't go in water that's so deep you can't touch the bottom and don't try to keep up with skilled swimmers,” the kidshealth.org article says. “That can be hard, especially when your friends are challenging you — but it's a pretty sure bet they'd rather have you safe and alive.”
Swimmers should also stay hydrated and avoid overexposure to the sun.
“Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing,” the CDC says. “Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.”
Have a plan and be prepared.
“Always tell someone that isn’t going to be with you on the water where you’re going and what time you’ll be back,” the Lake Hartwell Association advises. “A float plan left with family or friends is simple to do, and don’t forget to check back in upon your return.”
Boaters should also check their communications equipment to make sure it is working properly, the association says.
“In the case of an emergency, be prepared to give your exact location (nearby buoy number, GPS coordinates, etc.) directly to the dispatcher on the other end of the call,” the Lake Hartwell group says. “Just like when you travel by car, always know where you are on the lake, because every minute could count.”
Be aware of the weather.
Temperatures and weather conditions can change quickly on the lake, so boaters should be prepared to get caught in fog and have appropriate clothing available should temperatures drop rapidly after rain showers.
“Also, the U.S. Coast Guard warns about a condition called boater's fatigue, which means that the wind, noise, heat, and vibration of the boat all combine to wear you down when you're on the water,” the article from kidshealth.org says.
Take a boating safety course.
Boaters can learn these and other safety tips in boating safety courses.
The courses offer updated information on current law enforcement and other water, dock and marina laws, as well as proper boating etiquette and general safety guidelines, the Lake Hartwell Association says.
Information on such courses is available at https://gadnrle.org/boating-education or by calling the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at 706-376-0096, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at 770-535-5499 or BoatU.S. Online Safety Courses at 800-245-2628.
This story comes from our free publication, Lake Living Magazine.