Coast Guard urges water safety after wave of holiday weekend accidents

CLEVELAND – With the deaths of eight people during Memorial Day Weekend in Great Lakes’ waters, the Ninth Coast Guard District is urging everyone on the water to be especially cautious during the upcoming summer season.

Last weekend, Ninth District units conducted more than 125 search and rescue cases and assisted more than 100 Great Lakes boaters. Additionally, more than 60 citations were issued for boating safety violations over the holiday weekend.

“As the operational commander in the Great Lakes, I get to see an overall picture of what’s going on out there,” said Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District. “What I see is an alarming rise in the number of fatalities among boaters and swimmers compared to last year’s holiday weekend. Our goal is to ensure Great Lakes waterway users are aware of the dangers and risks on the water.”

“We want them to have the proper safety equipment and follow the proper procedures that help reduce those risks,” said Parks.

Warm weather, inexperience, alcohol and cold water are factors that may have caused some Great Lakes boaters to overlook possible safety concerns.

”With warmer weather upon us, people tend to forget that the water is still very cold and poses a significant risk of hypothermia,” said Frank Jennings, Jr., Ninth District boating safety program manager. “Folks who recreate on or near the water need to dress for the water temperature rather that the air temperature. And, they should wear a lifejacket.”

“Wearing a lifejacket greatly increases the chances of being rescued after an unexpected fall in the water,” said Jennings.

“Simple things, like filing a float plan and sticking to it, making sure you have the proper safety equipment like flares and lifejackets, and wearing your lifejacket at all times will help keep you safe out there on the lakes,” said Lt. Winward Griffin, a search-and-rescue controller in the Ninth District Command Center. “It also makes our job easier if you do get into trouble and need help.”

The Coast Guard is asking everyone on the water to focus on the following safety precautions:

  • Take a paddler education course. Paddlesports are the fastest growing segment of recreational boating, with more than 300,000 paddlecraft (primarily kayaks) now being sold annually. Paddlecraft are an extremely affordable entry point to recreational boating. Like any other watercraft, paddlers should seek out paddler education before heading out on the water. CLICK HERE to obtain more information on paddlesport safety.
  • Wear a personal floatation device/life jacket at all times. The law states you must have a PFD for every person on board, but the Coast Guard suggests you go one step further and wear your PFD at all times when boating. It is much more difficult to locate, access, or don a PFD at the moment the accident occurs. CLICK HERE for more information on personal floatation devices/PFDs.
  • File a float plan and leave it with someone who is not recreating on the water. A float plan is a lifesaving device on paper and can assist emergency responders with locating a distressed mariner. CLICK HERE for more information on float plans.
  • Have a VHF-FM marine band radio and visual distress signals. All of these devices will greatly assist you if you are in distress. CLICK HERE for more information on visual distress signals.
  • Check and monitor the marine weather before and while underway. Delay getting underway if storms are forecast.
  • Have a registered 406MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. CLICK HERE to learn more about registering your EPIRB.
  • DO NOT boat under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. Factor in boat motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray and a drinker’s impairment is accelerated. CLICK HERE for more information on boating under the influence.
  • Start the season off right with a thorough boat inspection, including the hull and propulsion equipment. Pay particular attention to through-hull fittings and hoses that may have cracked or become brittle over the winter.
  • Schedule a FREE Vessel Safety Check (VSC) with the Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.

The Coast Guard also advises citizens who are heading to the numerous beaches throughout the Great Lakes to take the following safety precautions when swimming:

  • When you’re swimming in lakes or the ocean, your family should stay in the supervised areas, since unmarked areas may hold potential dangers, such as sudden drop-offs and rip currents.
  • Never swim alone. Be sure to use the buddy system.
  • Never dive headfirst into unknown waters. There is a serious risk of head and neck injuries due to unseen obstacles. Even if you’re familiar with a lake or river, the conditions underwater tend to change, so go for a swim before your kids to make sure it’s safe. When you dive in, make sure you’re extending your arms over your head to protect your head just in case.
  • Dress for the water temperature rather that the air temperature. Watch for signs that the water temperature is too low. Look for shivering, a bluish tinge to the skin or an apathetic mood. Swimming in too-cold water can lead to hypothermia. Consider wearing a wetsuit to help retain body heat.
  • Keep an eye out for potentially dangerous conditions, such as large patches of vegetation on the water surface, just in case. Kids could potentially get tangled in these patches and attract the interest of animal predators
  • Don’t rely on floatation devices like water wings or rafts to keep your children safe. You should be swimming with them until they are strong enough to go it alone.

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