SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Memorial Day weekend is often seen as the unofficial kick-off of summer and with it, summer boating season. With that in mind, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is reminding people to wear life jackets while boating or swimming in lakes, rivers and streams.
Most water-related deaths, injuries and incidents in West Virginia happen because someone was not wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device, DNR officials said. Throughout the Memorial Day weekend and summer months, the DNR will post reminders about safe boating and swimming on social media as part of a campaign called Operation Life Jacket.
“West Virginia has a variety of creeks, rivers and lakes and we want folks to be able to enjoy going for a swim or taking their boat out for a day on the water,” said Lt. Warren Goodson, state training coordinator for the DNR’s Law Enforcement Section. “But you need to be safe and wear your life jacket.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of 3,536 non-boating related drowning deaths each year in the United States. An additional 332 people die each year from drowning in boating-related incidents. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
Half of all boating deaths might be prevented with the use of life jackets, according to the CDC. They also greatly reduce the risk of injury.
“Life jackets reduce the risk of injury and can save your life,” Goodson said. “You may never get in a car wreck, but wearing a seatbelt is there to protect you in the event that something unfortunate happens. A life jacket does the same thing.”
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources offers these swimming safety tips for families:
- Teach kids water safety, first aid and CPR before swimming in a natural body of water. You can contact your local Red Cross for guidance.
- Never swim alone. Always have a partner. Never allow kids to swim unsupervised or be near water while unattended.
- Make sure your life jacket is properly fitted.
- Never dive or jump into an unknown area in a natural body of water. Swim in designated areas.
- Avoid swift current, flood waters and low head dam areas.
- Never consume alcohol or drugs and get into the water.
- Take breaks from swimming to avoid fatigue.
- Wear sunblock to avoid sunburn.
- Remember “Reach, Throw and Row” if someone needs help in the water. Have reaching or throwing equipment available and know how to use them.
- Call 911 for emergencies.
State law requires anyone born after Dec. 31, 1986 to complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators approved boater education class before they can legally operate a motor boat or personal watercraft on any water in West Virginia.
The class covers topics such as U.S. Coast Guard navigational rules, safe motorboat operation and legal boating requirements in West Virginia. In-person classes are not available at this time, but the course can be completed online through a NASBLA and state-approved vendor for a fee.
You can learn more here about boating safety or to sign up for an in-person or online course.