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Corps of Engineers encourages boating safety during Memorial Day weekend

Staff Reports • Updated May 26, 2018 at 9:00 AM

NASHVILLE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District will promote National Safe Boating Week from May 19-25, the official launch of the 2018 Safe Boating Campaign and encourage boaters to wear their life jackets and practice water safety.  

The yearlong campaign promotes the value of voluntary, consistent life jacket wear by recreational boaters.

According to USACE officials, Memorial Day and boating season has arrived and with the warm weather, boaters are anxious about getting on the water but spending time with the family. Before launching a boat for the first time this season, boaters should check for all the required safety equipment, especially life jackets, and make sure all equipment is still in good condition.

“Wearing a life jacket significantly increases your chances of survival during an emergency situation,” said park ranger Dave Funderburk with J. Percy Priest Lake.

U.S. Coast Guard statistics showed drowning was the reported cause of death in four out of every five recreational boating fatalities in 2016, and that 83 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Funderburk said new life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters know. There are innovative options such as inflatable life jackets, allowing mobility and flexibility for activities like boating, fishing, paddling or hunting and are much cooler in the warmer weather.

Funderburk said others get into trouble swimming out to retrieve a boat that floated away, or swimming in a large body of water.

“Life jackets are designed to keep you from drowning in the water, which seems like a great reason to wear one at all times on the water,” said Funderburk.

During the 2017 summer recreation season, 12 people died at the Nashville District’s 10 lakes in the Cumberland River basin.  Of those, only one was wearing a life jacket.

Funderburk said when selecting a life jacket, it’s important to make sure people size it right and buckle it up. 

“Proper sizing is especially important on a child and a jacket that is too big will slip over their head if they fall in the water, and they could drown,” said Funderburk. 

Funderburk said life jackets are categorized by a person’s weight so check the label and test it to make sure it fits snug. If someone still doesn’t know how and when to wear a life jacket, ask a park ranger at the lake who can help you get it right.

At Corps lakes, most people who drown never intended to be in the water; they unexpectedly fell from a boat or dock into the water. When this happens, a person will reflexively gasp and can inhale up to 4 cups of water and drown in less than a minute.

“Other people simply over estimate their swimming ability or underestimate the depth of the water they are entering,” said park ranger Pamela Backus with Old Hickory Lake. “Some shorelines at Corps lakes can have very steep drop offs and swimmers can be in water over their head.”

Park rangers at the Nashville District’s 10 lakes advised visitors to swim at a designated swim beach. The areas were inspected to provide a safe swimming environment. At all Corps beaches, visitors swim at their own risk, so adults are encouraged to keep close watch of their children.

In 2016, more than 21 million people recreated at Lake Barkley, Cheatham Lake, Old Hickory Lake, J. Percy Priest Lake, Cordell Hull Lake, Center Hill Lake, Dale Hollow Lake, Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake and Martins Fork Lake in the Nashville District.

“We have a tremendous safety record given the millions of visitors that we receive on our lakes each year,” said Backus.  “One life lost is one to many and the Corps wants everyone to have fun on the water and want all visitors to return home safely at the end of the day.”

USACE is one of the nation’s largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation and manages more than 400 lakes and river projects in 43 states and hosting more than 250 million visits per year. With 90 percent of the recreation areas within 50 miles of metropolitan areas the Corps provides a diverse range of outdoor activities close to home and to people of all ages. Visit pleasewearit.com for more information.

When gearing up for the boating season, be sure to maintain boats and safely operate them. Always be mindful of water safety, not only during National Safe Boating Week, but also throughout the summer. 

For more information about the Nashville District, visit lrn.usace.army.mil.

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