The tragic death of a man at Tuttle Creek Reservoir on Sunday is a sad reminder that fun on the water can quickly turn catastrophic. National Safe Boating Week is May 18-24, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and Safe Kids Kansas strongly encourage outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared and follow these tips for a safe and enjoyable boating experience.
- Wear a life jacket. Boating accidents can happen without warning, leaving no time to locate and put on a life jacket. Always have children wear a life jacket while on boats, around open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Kansas law requires that all boats have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved, readily-accessible personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board. Children age 12 or younger are required to wear a life jacket at all times when on board a boat, and KDWPT strongly recommends that adults do the same.
- Designate a “Water Watcher.” Regardless of a swimmer’s age or skill level, it’s smart for a responsible adult to keep watch when anyone is in the water. If there are several swimmers, designate a Water Watcher for a certain amount of time (such as 15-minute periods) to prevent lapses in supervision. Download a Water Watcher card here.
- Learn CPR. Learn adult, infant and child CPR. Many local hospitals, fire departments, Red Cross offices, and recreation departments offer training at little to no cost. It will give you tremendous peace of mind, not only around the water, but also in everyday life.
- Learn how to safely help someone in distress. All too often, the victim of a drowning has succumbed while trying to rescue someone else. Hurriedly jumping into the water without wearing a life jacket is a recipe for disaster. Instead, try to follow these steps in succession: a) reach out to the victim with a long pole, b) throw a rope or preferably a life ring, or c) row out to the victim. As a last resort – and after donning a life jacket – you could try to enter the water while carrying a spare life jacket or ring with you. Never jump into the water to rescue someone if you’re not wearing a life jacket yourself.
- Adhere to a “no drinking” policy while boating. Boating under the influence is just as deadly as drinking and driving. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail terms. To be safe, only consume alcohol when on land, and never before operating your boat.
- Allow only those who have completed boater education to operate the vessel. In Kansas, anyone age 12-20 must have completed an approved boater education course before operating a vessel without the direct supervision of an adult. Approved adults include anyone age 18 or older who has completed the course or any adult age 21 or older. No one younger than 12 years of age may operate a vessel without supervision, regardless of a boater education certification.
- Know the rules of the water. Many people are unaware that there are operating rules for boats on the water, which include being able to recognize buoy markers and the proper use of navigation lights. Knowledge of these rules can prevent dangerous, and even deadly, situations.
- Educate yourself and your children about swimming safely. Teach children how to tread water, float and stay by the shore. Make sure kids swim only in areas designated for swimming. Swimming in open bodies of water is not the same as swimming in a pool. Be aware of uneven surfaces, underwater trees and rocks, currents (yes, there are currents in Kansas reservoirs) and changing weather.
- Keep warm. A dip in the lake may be tempting on a hot day, but remember that the water temperature may be too cold for prolonged swims – particularly in the spring and fall. Children are at a higher risk for hypothermia, so keep them out of the water or only allow short swims when the water is cold. If a swimmer seems cold or is shivering, get them out of the water immediately, and wrap them tightly in a dry blanket or towel.
- Make sure your boat has all the required equipment and is thoroughly tested before hitting the water. Safely operating a boat – like safely operating a motor vehicle – requires attention to the vessel’s worthiness to be on the water.
In the last five years prior to 2014, there have been 28 boating-related fatalities in Kansas. Twenty-six of the fatalities were from drowning. Only four of those victims were wearing life jackets, and other medical conditions contributed to their deaths. Two other victims were wearing life jackets but suffered traumatic injuries. Ten of the 28 victims were fishing, four were hunting and four were kayaking. Twenty-seven were males, of whom 24 were 18 years of age and older.