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Posted 8/13/2015

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By Brian Older, Park Ranger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


International visitors and Americans are usually surprised when I inform them that the Corps is the No. 1 provider of outdoor recreation in the continental United States.

The Corps has projects in over 40 states that feature a recreation component, with visitation exceeding 350 million visitors per year. These projects include dams, spillways, picnic areas, day use areas, campgrounds and boat launches. Recreational activities at some of these projects include hiking trails, swimming beaches, mountain bike trails, volleyball, soccer, softball and even Frisbee Golf courses ! 

Volunteers perform a diverse range of jobs for the Corps, from basic maintenance to water safety instruction. This year, 18 volunteers presented more than 400 Water Safety programs in some 85 schools spread over five counties. An estimated 29,000 elementary students were the recipients of these programs. The children learn water and boating safety through games, video, informal lectures and interactive participation. Our volunteers love meeting the students and enjoy giving back to their community through these programs. Occasionally, volunteers will run into the students at the mall, or local supermarket and the students will recognize them and say,” Hey, I remember you. You came to my school last week (or last year) and sang the Bobber song to us!”

Volunteers are required to work 20 hours a week in exchange for a complimentary RV camp site. The majority perform exceed this requirement because of their passion for getting the message out. Our unofficial motto is “you only have to reach one student to possibly save a life, or make a difference.” In 2003, that is exactly what I experienced in the town of Pahokee. While responding to a drowning death of a young man, his two friends told me that the only reason they didn’t follow the victim (their friend) into the dangerous area was because they had had a Water Safety volunteer teach them 3 months earlier not to swim in unfamiliar, or hazardous places. This thinking might have just saved their lives.

Here are some basic water and boating safety tips that may make a difference :

• Wear your life jacket, and encourage others to do the same. Each person onboard the vessel should have one assigned to them; always carry extras. You never know when someone else may need one. You just might save a life when you least expect it.

• If you see lightning nearby, take immediate shelter. Stay away from trees on shore. If no shelter is nearby, hunker down in a section of the boat farthest away from metal fittings, parts, or engines. Do not stand up if lightning strikes are nearby.

• Check your boat for all required safety equipment.

• Take a boating safety course. These are provided free by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

• Consider the capacity of your vessel. Don’t exceed the number of recommended passengers or weight. Overloading your vessel is a disaster waiting to happen.

• When in a powered vessel, always vent your fuel system for gas fumes before
refueling or starting.

• Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Drink water, juice or sparkling drinks for variety. You’ll be more alert and refreshed at the same time.

• If staying on the water for more than a few hours, file a float plan, or tell a friend when you will be expected to return.  Accidents can happen at any time and
engines can fail when you least expect them to.

Remember:

1. Most people drown within 20-30 feet away from safety. Be vigilant.

2. Don’t rely on inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat.

3. Never take chances, or dares from friends. Don’t overestimate your swimming skills.

4. Swim only in designated swimming areas. Never swim alone.  Make sure everyone is always accounted for and is being watched by a parent, guardian or lifeguard.

The Corps of Engineers have some excellent resources for learning more about Boating and Water Safety. Go to :  http://watersafety.usace.army.mil/  or  http://www.bobber.info/, or http://www.safeboatingcampaign.com for more information. Contact your local Corps Project facility and inquire if they present Water Safety programs in your area. Programs are provided for free to school groups, non-profits and civic/social organizations.

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