Three deaths, zero life jackets: personal flotation devices are No. 1 life saver on water

Water Safety program

Erin Parnell, park ranger at Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake, helps children try on life jackets during a water safety program at the Corps’ 23rd Annual Kid’s Fishing Day.

Life Jacket Loaner program

Tanya Grant, park ranger at Hartwell Dam and Lake, encourages visitors to always wear life jackets while swimming or boating. If they don’t have their own life jacket, visitors can borrow one through the Corps’ Life Jacket Loaner Program.

Over the Independence Day weekend there were three fatalities at the Corps of Engineers supervised lakes that could have been prevented with a simple piece of equipment, a life jacket.

According to the Corps’ statistics, most recreation fatalities occur outside designated recreational areas managed by the Corps of Engineers. During the holiday, a former Clemson running back drowned while swimming in Richard B. Russell Lake, a father drowned in Lake Hartwell after a boat collision, and a teen died from a head injury while diving into J. Strom Thurmond Lake to avoid a fireworks mishap on a dock.

“It’s very unusual for us to have one at each lake like this,” said Joe Melton, Savannah District Recreation program manager.  ”Over the last five-plus years we’ve averaged about seven fatalities for the whole year. And in each case, they were not wearing a life jacket.”

By law the Corps provides recreational facilities and opportunities on the lakes it manages. Types of recreation facilitated and enhanced by the Corps include swimming, boating, fishing and water skiing, plus land-based activities.

“We want everyone to be able to get out there and have a good time, but do it in a safe manner,” said Melton.

To be safe in and around the water people can do things like use the Corps’ designated swim areas, or for the boaters, take a boating safety class, but the most important thing when boating, according to Melton, is wearing a personal flotation device.

“The individual states have rules for life jacket usage based on age as to whether one has to wear them all the time or just have them available; however, the states mandate boaters must have a personal flotation device for every individual on their vessel,” said Melton.

Park ranger assistance, information kiosks, life vest loaner stations and websites are some of the Corps-provided resources available to the public for water safety.

“The bottom line is, think ahead and plan to make sure you have a good time on the lake,” said Melton.