As the summer boating season approaches, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is reminding members of the public 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, according to Lt. Warren Goodson, state training coordinator for the divisions's Law Enforcement Section.
Throughout the summer months, the division 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," Goodson said. "But you need to be safe and wear your life jacket."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 3,536 non-boating related drowning deaths occur each year in the U.S. An additional 332 people die annually from drowning in boating-related incidents. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 years old and younger.
Half of all boating deaths might be prevented with the use of life jackets, Goodson says. They also greatly reduce the risk of injury.
"Life jackets reduce the risk of injury and can save your life," he 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, floodwaters, and low head dam areas.
- Never consume alcohol or drugs and get into the water.
- Take breaks from swimming to avoid fatigue.
- Wear a 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.
DNR Law Enforcement officers are available for assistance and to answer questions about water safety.
West Virginia law requires anyone born after Dec. 31, 1986, to complete a boater education class approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators before they can legally operate a motorboat 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.
To learn more about boating safety or to sign up for an in-person or online course, visit WVDNR.gov/lenforce/boating.
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