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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Safety important while on the water

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

(Photo)
Rick Tidwell packs his boat.
SIKESTON -- It seems so simple. Wear a life jacket and use common sense on the water, and everything will be OK.

Yet summer after summer some boaters and swimmers continue to act against their better judgment.

Pemiscot County Sheriff Tommy Greenwell knows better than anyone right now the effects of bad decision-making on the water. Within a month, the Bootheel county has had two drownings.

"They're very unfortunate accidents where people, for whatever reason, get in the water," Greenwell said. "We've even had people who can swim well and drown."

On May 12 a 23-year-old Hayti man drowned during a fishing trip in the boat club chute off the Mississippi River in Caruthersville after he jumped off the boat to go swimming. He never resurfaced.

Then on June 3 a 23-year-old man drowned while swimming in the No. 6 ditch north of Steele. Neither men were wearing life jackets.

"Everyone has an opinion of 'this can't happen to me,'" Greenwell said. "Alcohol, in a lot of these accidents, is a major contributing factor, and many people get the feeling they can't drown."

Patrolmen Dave Nelson, Missouri State Water Patrol's public information officer for Southeast Missouri, said there's several things boaters, fishing enthusiasts and swimmers can do to ensure safety on the water.

"First of all, anytime you're going to be out on water, life jackets are very important. It's one piece of equipment that can actually save a life," Nelson said. "With the majority of drownings, if somebody would've had a jacket on, it would've helped tremendously."

Under Missouri law children under 7 must wear life jackets. Those 7 and over must have a properly fitting life jacket in the boat but they do not have to wear it.

Like Greenwell, Nelson also said alcohol plays a major role in drownings.

"If you're going to consume alcohol, do it in moderation," Nelson said. "Alcohol affects a person three times faster on water than on land. This is due to the waves, rocking of the boat and when you add alcohol on that, it compounds it more."

Nelson noted one positive trend though. He's seen more and more people using designated drivers on the waterways.

"And that's wonderful," Nelson said.

And swimmers and boaters should be familiar with where they're at, especially on rivers, where there could be drop-offs and snags, Nelson said. Always swim with partner, don't swim by yourself, Greenwell added.

Popular water destinations in this area include Lake Wappapello, Clearwater Lake, St. Francis River, Black River, Current River, Mississippi River and other diversion channels and boat chutes.

Boats should be checked and safety inspections conducted before heading out on the water, Nelson said.

Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1984, must take and pass a boater safety course in order to operate a boat on the water. When on the water, boaters must have photo identification and certification with them. This is the third summer the law has been in effect, Nelson said.

"It is a law, and they can receive a citation if they don't have these items," Nelson said.

The easiest way to get certification online through the Water Patrol's Web site: www.mswp.dps.mo.gov/. There individuals can take a course and obtain all the study material needed. Once they pass the online exam, they can print a temporary certification card.

Ultimately, being safe on the water comes down to using common sense, both Greenwell and Nelson said.

"Sometimes you have to weigh the costs," Nelson said. "If you're thinking about jumping in after something, ask if it's really worth the risk because most of the time, it's not."