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Corps urges boat safety over Labor Day weekend

by Lindsey Wells | September 1, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

As boaters prepare to head out on the water for the last major boating weekend of the year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urges everyone to exercise extreme caution on the water.

"We have been very fortunate so far this year to have zero major accidents on Ouachita, Greeson, and DeGray and we hope to continue that safety record through the rest of the year," said Amy Shultz, natural resource specialist with the Corps' Lake Ouachita Project Office.

Fortunately, no drownings have been reported from any of the three lakes in several years, Shultz said, adding that one watercraft-related fatality occurred last year on Lake Ouachita due to a medical issue.

A news release said that almost all drownings that have occurred could have been prevented if the individuals had been wearing a life jacket.

Arkansas boating regulations state that children 12 years of age and younger must wear a life jacket at all times while on a boat.

"It's recommended that everyone wear their life jacket, but there has to be a life jacket in good condition for every person in the boat and it cannot be stored in a compartment; it has to be out and readily accessible," Shultz said.

Boaters are encouraged to check all life jackets for damage such as rips, tears, and broken buckles before hitting the water. Life jacket loaner boards are available at all Corps of Engineers swimming areas and visitors may borrow a life jacket and return it at the end of the day.

"Before you hit the water, remember to check your boat for the proper safety equipment, tell someone where you will be recreating, carry a cellphone, never boat alone, and wear your properly fitting life jacket," the release said.

Park rangers will be stationed at boat ramps over the Labor Day weekend performing courtesy boat safety inspections.

"They will go from boat ramp to boat ramp and spend a few hours at each ramp just doing random inspections of boats before they go out on the lake," Shultz said. "It's not a ticket-writing thing. They will not write tickets, they will just check to make sure they have their safety equipment, they have all their life jackets, they have the fire extinguisher, everything they need before they hit the water. If they don't have those items, they'll advise them to go get them before they go out on the lake."

Parents are urged to watch their children at all times while in or near water, as it only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown, the release said. It also cautioned against diving from rocks or cliffs on lakes or rivers and stresses the importance of watching for underwater hazards and floating debris while boating.

Due to the rain and high winds caused by Hurricane Harvey this week, Shultz said they expect visitation to the lakes to be lower than normal, but that the weekend forecast looks to be clear.

"Now they're not calling for as much rain this weekend, so if people are watching the weather they may start coming out. But as far as what we've seen this week, it's been pretty slow," she said. "I just figure that they were watching the weather and thinking that the rain was coming in and it was keeping folks away from the lake. But, I checked it this morning and it looks like it's going to be a really nice weekend, if they're right."

Arkansas law prohibits anyone from boating while intoxicated. On using drugs or alcohol while boating, the law states, "This includes the operation of any motorboat or other vessel, or manipulation of water skis or other device, while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or both. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction times. Alcohol is a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities."

Shultz said in the release that the Corps of Engineers encourages people who can't swim or are not avid swimmers to enroll in swim lessons as a fun way to learn an important lifesaving skill.

"The Corps of Engineers would like to thank the patrons who visited our lakes this summer season," she said. "We hope you have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend."

Local on 09/01/2017

Print Headline: Corps urges boat safety over Labor Day weekend

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