Lifejackets worn … Nobody mourns

Published June 30, 2017

SAVANNAH, Ga. – More public recreation fatalities occur in July than any other month, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) asks the recreating public to play it safe while on, in, or near the water because drowning is a leading cause of death this time of year. USACE public recreation fatality statistics show that 88 percent were male, 89 percent were not wearing a life jacket, and 47 percent were swimming in areas not designated as a swimming area.

“Most people that drown would have survived if they had worn a life jacket,” Joe Melton, a Savannah District Natural Resources Manager, said. “Life jackets come in many styles, sizes and colors. People need to choose the right one that fits properly and then make sure to wear it correctly.”

There is a life jacket for every kind of water activity including swimming, Melton explained. One of the most comfortable life jackets for adult swimmers to wear is a manual belt type inflatable life jacket. “If you wear an inflatable life jacket of any kind make sure you know how it works, how to inflate it, inspect it before every use, how to rearm the CO2 cartridge, and repack it properly,” he said.

He also urges visitors to the Savannah District recreation areas to take advantage of the free lifejacket loaner program at many designated swim areas. Visitors can take a lifejacket from the display, use it and return it when finished.

Melton gives some more tips to help everyone have a safe and enjoyable time this summer.

• Swimming in open water is different and more difficult than in a swimming pool. People can tire more quickly and get into trouble due to waves, current, lack of experience, exhaustion, or their abilities to swim as long have decreased. Even the best swimmers can misjudge their skills and abilities while swimming in a lake or river. Conditions can change quickly in open water, so before entering the water don a life jacket. “While wearing a life jacket you will not use as much energy, it will help you float, and most importantly it will be there when and if you ever really need it,” he said.

• Every year several people lose their lives because someone encouraged them to do something, such as swim across a lake, cove or pond, out to the nearest buoy, to retrieve a beach ball or something else that floated away or some other activity like jumping off a cliff or bridge. Your actions can have deadly consequences, so you should never encourage anyone to do these types of activities. Friends should do things like swim in designated areas and encourage each other to wear a life jacket.

• While on or near the water watch out for each other at all times. “It only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown and 60 seconds for an adult to drown,” Melton said. “Drowning is a silent killer. With their mouth and lungs filling with water, the victim can’t speak or yell.” Several people drown every year within 10 feet of safety because the people around them were not paying attention and did not recognize the signs of drowning. The signs of drowning can resemble someone just playing in the water. The signs include head back, mouth open gasping for air, no yelling or sound, and arms slapping the water like they are trying to climb out of the water. “Properly rescuing someone should never include contact with them unless you are a trained lifeguard,” Melton warned. “Reach out to the victim with something to keep your distance or throw them something that floats to pull them to safety.”

• Avoid prolonged breath holding activities and games while swimming or in the water because it can lead to shallow water blackout. Shallow water blackout results from low oxygen to the brain. A person basically “blacks out” or faints in the water. Shallow water blackout can affect anyone who is breath-holding, even physically fit swimmers. It is especially seen in competitive swimmers, snorkelers, or anyone that free-dives. It can also occur when kids or people of any age play games to see how long they can hold their breath underwater or someone that does not know how to breathe properly when swimming.

• Boaters or those swimming near boats should be aware of carbon monoxide – another silent killer. This odorless, invisible gas clarifies another reason why wearing a life jacket saves lives. Carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere in or around a boat regardless of what type of boat you have. It is heavier than air but lighter than water, so it floats on the water’s surface. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness. One breath of carbon monoxide at the water’s surface can cause someone to pass out and drown. Avoid areas where exhaust fumes may be present. “Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform because carbon monoxide could be waiting for them,” he said.

Increased water safety awareness can help ensure that everyone has fun this summer and returns home with great memories and not tears.

“Always remember to wear a life jacket because it could save your life or the life of someone you love,” Melton concluded. “Lifejackets worn … nobody mourns.” Learn more at

Billy Birdwell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist
912-677-6039 (cell)

Release no. 17-018