Fort Worth, TX- Each Memorial Day weekend, there’s enough danger afloat on area lakes to worry paramedics, emergency room doctors and park rangers.
Drownings, near drownings and boat accidents appear inevitable as thousands of people head to North Texas waterways for the start of the summer season. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, 14 people died from water-related activities on Texas public lakes and rivers during Memorial Day weekend from 2005 through 2007.
Simple precautions can make boating and swimming both safe and fun, officials say.
Children sometimes swim without close parental supervision. And some people swim outside designated swimming areas, which increases their chances of going over an unseen dropoff or stepping on dangerous submerged debris, said Eric Pedersen, the Army Corps of Engineers’ acting lake manager for Lewisville and Ray Roberts lakes.
“A lot of our reservoirs do have steep dropoffs,” Pedersen said. “These are flood-control reservoirs; they are managed for flood-risk management. What we try to emphasize is that as they rise and fall, debris is carried in.”
Boaters should have the U.S. Coast Guard or a boating organization check their vessels at the start of the season to ensure that they are safe to operate, said Kristin Lolmaugh of the National Safety Council.
Boaters should also wear flotation devices and avoid alcoholic beverages when out on the water. By law, boats must have a personal floatation device for each person aboard, and children younger 13 must wear one on the vessel.
An uptick in boat ownership by older people adds a new element. Older boat drivers need to compensate for age-related factors, Lolmaugh said.
“Statistics show there is an increase in activity and an increase in accidents and injuries and death” among older boaters, Lolmaugh said. “There are a lot of issues even if someone has been boating their whole life. There’s slower reaction time, poorer eyesight, and more medications that can react with motion and sunlight.”
Engines should be shut off before anyone swims from a boat. Swimmers must be wary of carbon monoxide around a boat, especially under stern decks, Lolmaugh said. The deadly gas is known to build up in the small space between the deck and the water, where children sometimes like to linger while swimming, she said.
Grapevine Fire Chief Steve Bass said his department has handled drownings at Lake Grapevine.
“More often than not it results form some sort of alcohol usage, and people being negligent,” he said.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating deaths often stem from:
■ People not wearing Coast Guard-approved flotation devices
■ A collision because of driver inattention
■ A boat driver with no formal instruction about safe-boat operation
Major causes in all accidents include:
■ Careless operation
■ Excessive speed
■ Lack of a proper lookout on the boat
The American Red Cross offers the following advice to avoid drowning:
■ Swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard.
■ Read and obey all rules and posted signs.
■ Use feet-first entries. Dive only in designated diving areas and where the water is clear, and there are no obstructions.
■ Children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
■ Avoid getting too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, and too much strenuous activity.
■ Families can set safety rules based on swimming abilities. For example, inexperienced swimmers should remain in water less than chest deep.
■ Know where deep and shallow areas, obstructions, dangerous currents and other hazards are.
■ Keep an eye out for bad weather and pay attention to forecasts. Stop swimming if the conditions could present a hazard.