Practice boat safety this weekend with “Play it Safe”
This afternoon kicks off Memorial Day weekend. Public pools are open, and it’s time to hit the lake.
Before High Rock, Lake Tillery and Badin reach the most hectic time of the year, local law enforcement and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission want to make sure sun-seekers observe proper safety protocol. That’s why they, along with Alcoa Power Generating Inc., hosted an event Thursday to begin their ninth annual “Play it Safe on the Lakes” campaign.
The campaign starts up every year during Boat Safety Week just before Memorial Day weekend to stress boat safety and life jacket use, and to help prevent accidents.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nationwide there were 651 boating- and water-related fatalities in 2012. While that is down from 758 in 2011, the ratio of fatalities to accidents has increased, says Vice Flotilla Commander Brad Simpson.
North Carolina ranks No. 5 in the nation for water- and boating-related fatalities.
“Those are not the kind of top 10 lists we want to see North Carolina on,” said Karen Baldwin, natural resources manager for Alcoa.
Most boating accidents occur between May and September, which is one reason Alcoa sends out the “Play it Safe” message now. This year, the campaign is focusing on two specific hazards: lack of life jackets and the consumption of alcohol.
Sgt. Anthony Sharum of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said officers are encouraging boaters to pick a designated driver, and to not switch up between the boat and the car.
“Keep your designated drivers,” he said.
Law enforcement is also trying to remind people that legal blood alcohol content levels are the same for cars and boats — don’t go over 0.08. Boaters can expect to see boat patrols with officers from Rowan, Stanly, Davidson and Montgomery counties on the lakes this weekend conducting sobriety tests with new portable, hand-held Breathalyzers, courtesy of Alcoa.
Those who witness a boating violation may report it by calling 1-800-622-7137.
“Play it Safe” organizers also want to make sure those at the lakes this summer wear life jackets — on and off the boat. Seventy-one percent of all boating accidents result in drowning, and 85 percent of those fatalities could have been prevented by a life jacket.
The reminder is especially important in light of a July 5, 2012, boating accident on High Rock in which six passengers with limited swimming ability ended up in the water. In this case, there were life jackets available on the boat, but the boat sank too quickly for any of the passengers to retrieve them. Sharum said there would have been a fatality had they not been rescued by nearby boaters.
North Carolina law states that every swimmer and boater 13 and younger must wear a life jacket. For those who don’t have access to one, Alcoa is sponsoring two “Safety Saturday” events on June 8 foam 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., one at the Flat Swamp/Pebble Beach access in Davidson County and one at the Badin access area in Stanly County.
At each location, the company will give away 100 life jackets on a first-come, first-served basis. Each event will also feature activities for children, other giveaways and special guests. Alcoa also provides free rescue throw bags at every public swim area and loaner life jackets at public swim areas in Davidson County.
State officials also encourage boaters to take a boating safety course. While they’re a good idea in general, in North Carolina, boat drivers under the age of 26 are required to attend, and pass, a boat safety course. The classes are free, and are offered throughout the summer by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Registration is available on the agency’s website at www.ncwildlife.org .
“Play it Safe” offers several tips for anyone headed to the lakes this summer:
• Wear a life jacket.
• Avoid alcohol.
• Make sure vessels have required safety equipment, life jackets, and fire extinguishers. And wear those life jackets.
• Get a boat inspection; they’re free.
• Teach kids to swim at a young age. Swimming classes are offered through the YMCA.
• Watch children carefully. It may be easy to get distracted in the days of social media, but keep track of kids at all times.
“A great day at the lake can be ruined by an accident that could be prevented,” Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten warned.
Remember, officials say, an educated boater is a safe boater.
Rebecca Rider is a Catawba College student and a summer intern at the Salisbury Post.