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WATCH | Water safety: Think ahead; keep an eye on children when on the lake

by Lance Brownfield | May 24, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
A boat approaches the dock at Futrell Marine on Lake Hamilton on Tuesday. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

In the aftermath of two reported drownings on area waterways this past weekend, local agencies are strongly stressing the need for safety on the water over the upcoming three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Safe Boating Week in Arkansas officially started May 20 and runs through Friday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking for the public's help in reducing the number of fatalities and incidents at the more than 2,800 recreation areas it manages around the country.

Jon Munz, natural resource specialist at Lake Ouachita, stressed the importance of always wearing a life jacket around open bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.

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"There's drop-offs, there's currents and there's also underwater debris," Munz said. "That can make it difficult and also different than swimming at, like beaches or swimming pools. So, wearing your life jacket will drastically increase your chance of survival when encountering an issue."

According to the Corps of Engineers' 10-year public recreation fatality statistics, 88% of drowning victims over the past decade were males, 87% were 18 years old or older and 89% were not wearing life jackets.

On average, it takes about 10-20 seconds for a child to drown and about a minute for adults. Munz said that's less time than it takes to send a text message.

Remember to never push yourself, or others, beyond their swimming ability; mixing alcohol and water is always dangerous; and boaters should prepare their boats before coming to the lake, he said.

"Pay attention to your children," Munz said. "Don't let them wander off on a swim beach without a life jacket on."

Another scary statistic, according to Munz, is that about 60% of drownings are witnessed, meaning many situations could be controlled if those around are prepared.

Four signs of distress that may indicate that someone is drowning are that their head will likely be tilted back, their mouth will be open, they likely won't be making any sound, and their arms will be flailing in and out of the water.

The proper way to save a drowning victim is to "reach, throw, row, don't go," Munz said. First, extend something to the victim to grab on to and pull them back in. Next, throw something that floats to help them stay above water. Row to get a vessel close to them. Once close enough, make sure the craft's motor is off and paddle to them.

Lastly, don't get into the water to rescue a victim. Munz said the majority of the time, this can result in a double drowning as the person in distress will try to overpower the other person and cause both to drown.

He said he encourages parents to make sure life jackets fit securely and snugly on their children to ensure it works properly and does not slip off during an emergency.

The official start of summer, Memorial Day weekend is often a crowded time for lakes and rivers.

"So, wearing your life jacket does save lives," Munz said. "And it's always good to remember the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water safety slogan that, 'Life jackets worn, nobody mourns.'"

He said taking steps to ensure safety is just as important for boaters as it is swimmers, and it should start by checking the vessel before arriving at the boat ramp.

He suggests checking trailers and making sure all the life jackets are in the boat, along with the plug for the boat, all devices such as fire extinguishers and engine cutoff safety switches, and a throwable flotation device.

Taking these steps before getting to the boat ramp can help to keep things moving when the waterways are congested.

To eliminate a silent but deadly threat, turn on the blower motor for four minutes before launching and while out on the water to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

It's also a danger for houseboats, as well. Carbon monoxide poisoning can affect those on or around an open aircraft just like an enclosed cabin. Even nearby swimmers are in danger if the proper precautions are not taken.

In an effort to keep its customers safe, Kahuna Bay Boat Rental & Marina provides its boaters with a copy of Arkansas state boating laws and a map of Lake Hamilton that highlights shallow areas for every boat they rent out.

A lesser-known effect of spending the day on the lake is boater's hypnosis, which can slow down reaction times, creating the effect of being legally intoxicated without any alcohol intake, Munz said.

This is caused by the sun, wind, noise, vibration and extended periods of being on a boat. When alcohol is introduced to the equation, it can amplify the effect.

Alcohol can be dangerous for swimmers and boaters, causing an inner-ear condition that disorients the drinker by making them lose track of which way is up. This can spell disaster for people when diving, operating boats or participating in other water activities.

"Overall, please keep a close eye on your children," Munz said. "The holiday weekend will be very busy. The boat ramps are going to be very packed, so please have patience on the boat ramps. Be cautious of others, and when you're inside the campgrounds, make sure you're driving slow and you're paying attention to everything that's going on around you. There's going to be a lot more kids out and about with school being let out."

  photo  Jon Munz, natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recently emphasized boating and water safety for Memorial Day weekend. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record
  photo  This map of shallow points in Lake Hamilton is provided by Kahuna Bay Boat Rental and Marina to its customers, along with a printout of Arkansas state boating laws. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

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