Officials: Play it safe on the water
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Just in time for aquatic fun on Memorial Day weekend, Alcoa launched its water safety campaign Thursday in partnership with law enforcement agencies.
Mark Gross, technical manager at Alcoa, encouraged local residents Thursday to play it safe at High Rock Lake.
“This weekend, our beautiful lake will be filled with people enjoying the summer weather,” Gross said. “People will be boating, hiking, camping and having a good time. But it only takes a moment for those good times to turn into tragedy, and that’s why we’re here today.”
He said Alcoa promotes its message, “Play It Safe on the Lakes,” with billboards, newspaper and radio ads, grocery bags and whistles. The company also gave more than 200 free life jackets to local children at three water safety events last weekend.
Gross said the near drowning Sunday of a 22-year-old man at Pebble Beach, a public swim area at High Rock, serves as an important reminder about safety.
“Hopefully, that close call will be the only incident we have to respond to this summer,” Gross said. By this time last year, four people had drowned on the lake.
Steven Barr, a volunteer firefighter from Asheboro, was having a picnic with his family at Pebble Beach and heard cries for help. A man had become exhausted from swimming and was struggling to come to shore.
Barr called 911, swam 30 to 40 feet out to the man and pulled him to safety. Barr says he happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“Accidents happen,” Barr said. “Anything can happen at any time. You just need to make sure you do everything you can to avoid them.”
While speaking to people gathered for the launch at High Rock’s Dutch Second Creek boat access area, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten thanked Alcoa for working with law enforcement agencies to educate the public about water safety.
“It’s much easier to be safe than it is to deal with consequences that could be tragic,” Auten said.
Stanly County Sheriff Rick Burris also thanked the company for its support of local law enforcement.
Children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times on a moving vessel in state waters.
When Davidson County Sheriff David Grice spoke, he stressed the importance of wearing a life jacket at any age, recalling the drowning of a father and son that he responded to last year.
In 2009, drowning was reported as the cause of death in about two out of three boating fatalities. More than 80 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
Chris Harris with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said the agency conducts free inspections to make sure every vessel is equipped with life jackets, proper flotation devices and proper fire extinguishers.
The Wildlife Resources Commission also is stepping up its enforcement regarding operating while intoxicated, he said. It is illegal to drive a boat, drive a water ski or ride a tube while impaired in North Carolina.
“The majority of our boating accidents and fatalities come from impaired drivers,” Harris said.
All boaters are encouraged to take safety courses the agency provides in most North Carolina counties.
State law now requires drivers under 26 years old to complete a boating safety course before operating a motor boat of 10 horsepower or greater.
The free boater safety courses will be offered in Salisbury on June 18 and July 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rowan County Rescue Squad, 1140 Julian Road, as well as on Aug. 14 from 1 to 7 p.m. at the West Liberty Fire Department, 135 St. Matthews Church Road. To register, visit ncpaws.org/boatingsafety/coursesearch.asp.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Water safety guidelines
If you are boating:
• Always wear your life jacket while boating. North Carolina law requires children under 13 years old to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
• Avoid alcohol. Alcohol use affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. Reports suggest that alcohol is a contributing factor in about one in five boating fatalities.
• Tell someone where you are boating and when you will return.
• Watch for severe weather.
• Get a free safety inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
• Sign up for a boater education course.
If you are swimming:
• Never swim alone.
• Stay in designated swim areas.
• Always keep a close eye on children and inexperienced swimmers.
• Avoid alcohol. Do not swim if you have been drinking.
• Watch for severe weather. Do not get in the water if there is lightning.