SAVANNAH, Ga. – Nearly 90 percent of drownings at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lakes are adult males and it seems arrogance – thinking they can swim and lame excuses, like life jackets are uncomfortable or unflattering, lead to drownings in many cases.
Savannah District lakes in Georgia and South Carolina saw eight drownings last year, up 300 percent from 2020. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reported 62 drownings in 2020, which is also an increase of 24 percent (no data is available for 2021).
“Men are basically the worst when it comes to water safety according to our statistics,” said Tom Conning, Savannah District spokesman. “I completely understand the rational since I’m in the sweet-spot of the demographic that sees the most fatalities. I can swim and don’t particularly like wearing a life jacket; however, I understand that those sentiments don’t matter if I fall into the water without a life jacket and hit my head. If that happens, I’m going to sink to the bottom and drown.”
Savannah District’s eight drownings were at two of its three reservoirs (2021): Thurmond near Augusta, Georgia and Hartwell near Anderson, South Carolina. Water safety is a priority for Corps staff, according to Melissa Wolf, Lakes Branch chief.
“We want everyone to enjoy their time at Corps parks and head home safely.” said Wolf, “We also want to remind people to eliminate alcohol consumption while swimming and boating because it’s a major contributor to accidents and drownings.”
Savannah District averages more than 13.5 million visitors per year at 229 recreation sites across three dams and reservoirs in Georgia and South Carolina. Corps officials urge users to take precautions, such as:
- Wearing a life jacket: It will help you survive an unexpected fall into the water and can save your life if you become exhausted due to fatigue, waves or current while swimming.
- Knowing your swimming abilities: Swimming in natural waters is different from swimming in a pool, and your swimming ability decreases with age.
- Expecting the unexpected: If you fall or jump into water that is colder than 70 degrees, you can inhale water from involuntary gasping.
- Understanding “boater’s hypnosis:” This can slow your reaction time almost as much as being legally intoxicated.
- Eliminating alcohol consumption: Alcohol induces an inner ear condition (caloric labyrinthitis) that can cause you to become disoriented when underwater and not realize which way is up.
To promote water safety at its lakes, the Corps’ Life Jacket Loaner Program is available at many of its recreation areas. This program offers a free life jacket for visitors to use while recreating at the lake. Check with the visitor’s center or look for the life jacket loaner displays on Corps’ swimming beaches: Richard B. Russell Lake – 706-213-3400; J. Strom Thurmond Lake – 864-333-1100 and Hartwell Lake – 706-856-0300.
According to SafeKids Savannah, loaner life jackets are also available at the following locations in Savannah:
- Rodney Hall Boat Ramp at Skidaway Narrows
- Lazaretto Creek Boat Ramp at Tybee Island
- Houlihan Bridge Boat Ramp
- Thunderbolt Boat Ramp
- Frank Spencer Boat Ramp
- Kings Ferry Boat Ramp
District staff stress the importance of water safety year-round, but especially during the summer season because that’s when most public recreation fatalities occur.