14-036 Corps reminds public to play safe this summer

Published May 21, 2014

WALLA WALLA, Wash. –  Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer and serves as the official kick-off for seasonal recreation outdoor fun.

Now is the time to start thinking about water safety. Each year, approximately 4,000 people die in the United States from unintentional drowning, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. About half of those drownings occurred in natural waters, like rivers, ponds and lakes. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States for all ages. Yet, it is possible – just by wearing a life jacket, or taking other precautions – to reduce drowning deaths.

On average, 9 out of 10 people who drowned at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed lake or river didn’t wear a life jacket. Life jackets save lives by keeping you afloat and providing time for rescue.

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 one liter of water and drown in less than a minute.

Others get into trouble swimming out to retrieve a boat that floated away, or swimming in association with a boat. Swimming in natural waters is not the same as swimming in a pool. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble and be gone within seconds. It takes an adult about 60 seconds to drown and a child about 20 seconds to drown. Swimming ability also decreases with age.

In 2013, there were 560 recreational boating-related deaths and 2,620 injuries. Where cause of death was known, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. These U.S. Coast Guard statistics are available at: www.uscgboating.org.

Water safety officials urge everyone to always wear life jackets, learn more about safe-boating practices and always engage in responsible conduct while on the water. America’s rivers, lakes and oceans are excellent places for boaters to gather with family and friends while enjoying the outdoors. As they do so, it is important that individuals avoid risky behavior that can lead to boating accidents. Factors such as careless and reckless operation, inattention and excessive speed contribute to accidents.

As the nation's largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities, and the safety of these visitors is the Corps' highest priority. To help individuals stay safe, the Corps urges boaters to take basic safety precautions. By practicing responsible boating habits, people can help contribute to a safer, more enjoyable experience on the water. Here are some safety tips from the Corps’ Walla Walla District to help recreation seekers stay safe in the water at federal recreation areas over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and through the summer months.

1) Wear a life jacket. State law requires that a lifejacket is available for every person on board a boat, and children 12 and under must have it on while underway.

2) Watch your children. It only takes a child an average of 20 seconds to drown. Be a water watcher and designate someone to always watch children or any person with special needs while on or around the water.

3) Know your limits. Don’t give in to peer pressure about jumping off a bluff or swimming farther than you should. Recognize your limitations and stay within them.

4) Safe boating. Take a boating safety course. Know the rules before you boat. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the majority of boating-related fatalities involve operators who have not received any boating safety instruction.

5) Alcohol and water don’t mix. More than half of all drowning deaths are related to alcohol consumption. In the Corps’ Walla Walla District, recreation areas where the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages are prohibited include:

-- Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake, Washington -- All Corps-managed lands and waters.

-- Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, Washington -- Charbonneau, Levey, Fishhook and Windust parks, located on Lake Sacajawea upstream of the dam.

-- McNary Lock and Dam, Washington and Oregon -- Hood Park, located on Lake Wallula near the Snake River confluence.

-- Little Goose Lock and Dam, Washington -- Little Goose Lock and Dam Visitor Recreation Area, located below the dam tailrace on the south side of the Snake River.

-- Lower Granite Lock and Dam, Washington -- Green Belt Boat Launch, Chestnut Beach, and Swallows Park day-use recreation areas, located on Lower Granite Lake.

-- Dworshak Dam and Reservoir, Idaho -- Powerhouse Road fishing area, located below the dam tailrace on the west side of the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

The long weekend also marks a major increase in traffic and congestion on our highways, an increase in outdoor recreation at our nation's many parks and recreational areas and warrants caution to ensure that all are safe throughout their activities.

Go to the Walla Walla District website, www.nww.usace.army.mil and click on the Recreation information link to get the latest information on outdoor recreation opportunities near you.

Public Affairs Office

Release no. 14-036