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9th District Great Lakes Public Affairs
U.S. Coast Guard

News Release

August 30, 2012


Ninth Coast Guard District

Contact: Ninth Coast Guard District External Affairs Office

Email: D9PublicAffairs@gmail.com

Office: (216) 902-6020

Mobile: (216) 310-2608

Heading into Labor Day weekend, Coast Guard reminds Great Lakes boaters to practice safe boating habits

93 water-related deaths in Great Lakes Region so far this year

CLEVELAND — With 93 total water-related deaths so far this year in the Great Lakes, the Coast Guard is urging those who plan to recreate on the Great Lakes during Labor Day weekend, or at any other time, to take appropriate safety precautions.

Labor Day weekend marks the traditional end of the beach and boating season across the nation, and is usually one of the busiest for the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard encourages swimmers and boaters to always check the current and forecaster marine weather before heading to the water. Even on seemingly nice days, waves and underwater currents may be more than the average swimmer or boater can handle. The National Weather Service marine forecast is available HERE.

As Tropical Storm Isaac continues northward, heavy rainfall and flooding threatens inland portions of the central U.S. during the next several days.  Remnants of the storm are predicted to appear in the Great Lakes region Sunday and Monday.

The following are additional safety tips all boaters should abide by:

  • Wear a life jacket at all times — The law states you must have a life jacket for every person aboard, but the Coast Guard suggests you go one step further and wear your life jacket at all times when boating. It is much more difficult to locate, access, or don a life jacket at the moment the accident occurs. CLICK HERE for more information on life jackets.
  • File a float plan and leave it with someone who is not recreating on the water — A float plan is a lifesaving device on paper and can assist emergency responders with locating a distressed mariner. CLICK HERE for more information on float plans.
  • Have a marine band radio and visual distress signals — While many boaters rely on cell phones for emergency communications on the water, VHF-FM radios are much more reliable in the marine environment and work in areas where cell phones sometimes don’t.  When a mayday is broadcast over channel FM Channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency, multiple response agencies and other nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance.  Additionally, in accordance with federal law, recreational boats 16 feet and longer are required to carry visual distress signals such as flares, smoke signals or non-pyrotechnic devices, and vessels 12 meters or longer are required to carry sound-producing devices such as whistles, bells and gongs. State and local laws may require further safety equipment.
  • Have a registered 406MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon — When a 406 MHz beacon signal is received, search and rescue personnel can retrieve information from a registration database. This includes the beacon owner's contact information, emergency contact information, and vessel/aircraft identifying characteristics. Having this information allows the Coast Guard, or other rescue personnel, to respond appropriately.
  • Have a Personal Locator Beacon — A personal locator beacon is a compact device that is clipped to a boater, normally on the lifejacket he or she is wearing.  Once activated in a distress situation, the PLB transmits a 406 MHz signal to the International Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System, which provides distress alert and location data for search and rescue operations around the world.
  • DO NOT boat under the influence of alcohol — Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. Factor in boat motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray and a drinker's impairment is accelerated. CLICK HERE for more information on the dangers of boating under the influence.

The Coast Guard recommends the following tips for swimmers:

  • Swim near a lifeguard — U.S. Lifesaving Association statistics during a 10-year period show that the chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a beach with lifeguards.
  • Never swim alone — Many drownings involve single swimmers. Learn water rescue techniques you can use if someone you are swimming with is in danger.
  • Don’t fight the current — If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it by trying to swim directly to shore. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you feel the current relax, then swim to shore. Most rip currents are narrow and a short swim parallel to shore will bring a swimmer to safety.
  • Swim sober — Alcohol is a major factor in drowning. Alcohol can reduce body temperature and impair swimming ability. Both alcohol and drugs impair good judgment, which may cause people to take risks they would not otherwise take.
  • Don’t float where you can’t swim — Non-swimmers and weak swimmers often use flotation devices, such as inflatable rafts, to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a flotation device unless they are also able to swim. The only exception is a person wearing an inherently buoyant Coast Guard-approved Type I, II or III life jacket.
  • Prepare for the unexpected — Wear a life jacket while participating in any activity during which you could unexpectedly enter the water, such as when fishing from break walls or piers.
  • Avoid unnecessary risks — Walking along break walls is risky because it only takes a momentary loss of footing to invite tragedy. Jumping from break walls, waterside structures or into unfamiliar water is extremely dangerous since unseen underwater hazards may exist.
  • Additional water safety tips are available on the U.S. Lifesaving Association website.

According to United States Lifesaving Association statistics, 80 percent of beach rescues are necessary due to rip currents, and more than 100 people die annually from drowning in rip currents.  The following are tips on identifying, avoiding and escaping rip currents:

  • Identify — Look for changes in water color; water motion; incoming wave shape or breaking point compared to adjacent conditions; channels of churning or choppy water; lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.
  • Avoid — Check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions before heading out; learn to swim; learn to swim in surf; never swim alone; swim near a lifeguard; look for posted signs and warning flags indicating hazards; check with lifeguards before swimming and obey their instructions; always assume rip currents are present; if in doubt, don’t go out.
  • Escape — Remain calm to conserve energy; don’t fight the current; swim across the current parallel to the shoreline; when out of the current, swim an angle away from the current and toward shore; if you can’t escape, try to float or tread water until the current subsides then swim to shore; if you can’t reach shore, face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help to draw attention.
  • Assist — Get help from a lifeguard or if one isn’t available, call 911; throw the victim something that floats — a lifejacket, cooler, ball; yell instructions to escape; don’t become a victim trying to help someone else.

Finally, the Coast Guard reminds mariners that, water temperatures will start to descend rapidly as fall and winter set in.

No matter how warm the temperature may be, the risks of hypothermia still exists, so boaters need to continue to be cautious of the risks of drowning and hypothermia.

In fact, someone in cold water may have only minutes of functional movement before he loses the effective use of fingers, arms and legs.  At this point, a victim who is not wearing a life jacket will likely drown because he can no longer tread water and remain afloat.

Even with a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, hypothermia is a threat to survival once someone is exposed to cold water.  The body may lose heat 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air.  When recreating outdoors, mariners should dress for the water temperature — not the air temperature.

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