Many water enthusiasts will take to area lakes this weekend to celebrate Labor Day and enjoy one last water-based recreational outing of the year.
With no reported major accidents or water-related fatalities this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is sending out a call for safety to end the summer on a positive note.
Brian Westfall, a natural resources specialist with the Lake Ouachita Project Management Office, spent the last few days on lakes Ouachita and DeGray and said water levels are good for navigation, but still urges boaters to be on the lookout for shallow spots and objects in the water such as logs or mountaintops.
"Most of the shallow spots are marked by navigational buoys, but we can't guarantee that every shallow spot will be marked on the 40,000-acre impoundment," he said, adding that the main causes of collisions are other vessels and fixed objects in the water. "We encourage all boaters to keep a proper lookout, maintain a safe speed and just be on the lookout for any hazards that they may encounter out there on the lake."
Statistics show that almost all drownings that have occurred could have been prevented if the individual had been wearing a life jacket, Westfall said.
"Boating and water safety actually begins and ends with the use of life jackets as your best defense against drowning," he added. "Life jackets are just as important as wearing seat belts in your car, so anytime you get out on the lake, especially in a vessel, or even swimming, it's certainly good to wear a life jacket."
The current life jacket law states that children 12 years of age and younger must wear a life jacket at all times while the vessel is on the water. Individuals 13 years of age and older are not legally required to wear a life jacket, but Westfall said the Corps strongly encourages everyone, regardless of age, to wear a life jacket while on the water. He added that the law also states that every boat must have a wearable, Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each of its occupants.
For those that do not possess their own life jackets, free loaner life jackets will be available at almost all swimming areas.
"Wear that life jacket for your family, wear it for your friends, wear it for you," Westfall said.
If enjoying the lake with children, having a designated person to watch them at all times is equally important to wearing life jackets, Westfall added.
"You're looking at 20-60 seconds for a child to drown. Just glancing away, maybe at a book or your phone, just a moment that you look down to glance at something, that is about the time that it takes for a child to go under the water," he said, adding that the Corps highly suggests that children receive swimming lessons if they are going to be around water. "That's one of the best things you can do for your children to get them used to being around the water and respect the water. We love going on the water, but water can be deadly."
With a chance for pop-up showers and thunderstorms this weekend, the Corps urges boaters to be cognizant of the weather.
"Watch the weather and watch your children very closely, and in that situation you should be able to go home safely and avoid a tragedy that could affect you for the rest of your life," Westfall said.Local on 09/01/2018