Cool swims and family boating trips can turn tragic.
The risks are real. Four children died last summer in Lake Shasta. Two, ages 3 and 7, drowned. Boating accidents also killed an 8-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy.
According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, children ages 5 to 17 who drown most often do so in rivers, lakes and other freshwater sites.
Adults are vulnerable to water hazards, too.
“We had two older gentlemen” drown on Lake Shasta, “along with multiple accidents where people were injured or cut by propellers,” said Shasta County sheriff’s deputy Ray Hughes, who is with the Boating Safety Unit.
The Sheriff’s Office and the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) offer several safety tips and clarifications of laws to make family trips to the water safer.
1. Wear, and have kids wear, a properly-fitted life jacket
Make sure each child has a Coast Guard-approved life jacket made for their size and age group. Know how to correctly put it on a child.
The NSBC reported 84.5 percent of drowning victims of all ages in recreational boating accidents in 2017 weren’t wearing a life jacket.
Hughes said the 7-year-old who died at Lake Shasta last summer had snuck away from his family to take a dip.
“Parents can be vigilant, it’s just a matter of turning your back,” he said.
During his 40-year career, personal injury attorney Russ Reiner of Palo Cedro represented families who lost children or adults in boating accidents.
“Children are the most vulnerable,” said the grandfather of three.
Reiner points to what he thinks is a common misconception: If your child is on a boat, not actually swimming or wading in the water, he or she doesn’t need a life jacket.
“If you get in an accident and are thrown from a boat without a life vest you’re at great risk of serious injury or death,” Reiner said.
Children ages 12 and younger are required by law to wear a life jacket while on board a moving recreational water vessel.
“Proper fit is a must,” said Hughes who often sees people wearing the wrong jacket. Life jackets for all ages need to be selected according to a person’s height and weight.
He also sees people wearing jackets that aren’t secured.
“You can actually be cited for wearing a life jacket improperly,” Hughes said. “If you have buckles, don’t leave them open, undone.”
2. Never drink and drive
“Anyone driving a boat must be sober,” Hughes said.
3. Stop the engine
According to the NSBC, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 172 propeller-related accidents nationally in 2017.
Some could have been prevented if the driver of the vessel had used an engine cutoff device, the NSBC said.
“You wouldn’t take an open blender and wave it around,” Hughes said. “That’s what’s powering the boats. Those need to be off when people are in the water.”
Engine cut-off devices stop a boat’s engine if the operator falls overboard or faints, etc.
“If it’s equipped with a cutoff switch, a lanyard (connected to the key) should be used,” Hughes said.
This device reduces the risk or collision and of hitting someone in the water with a propeller.
There’s another reason to shut off the engine while the boat is stopped or people are swimming. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and deadly gas. It sinks so it’s close to the surface of the water or ground. Because of their height, kids may be the first ones affected.
“People who pull up to shore and leave the generator on should only do so for the time they need to use the appliances inside,” Hughes said. “On windless days, or going into an area where wind is blocked, you’ve got to be even more vigilant turning off engines and generators. The carbon monoxide just sits there and builds up.”
4. Get equipped
Make sure your boat has all the safety equipment required by law. This may include an emergency sounding device, proper navigation lights and at least one serviceable U.S. Coast Guard-approved marine fire extinguisher. These are available at marine shops.
“There’s a recall on certain models of Kidde fire extinguishers,” Hughes said. “Check online or with marine stores” for possible recalls on equipment.
Keep at least one type IV throwable floatation device on all vessels.
“That must be immediately accessible,” Hughes said.
If you plan to water ski, have a ski flag and know how to use it.
5. Look for trouble
Watch for excessive debris and land just under the water’s surface.
“This is a dam built off a four-river intersection,” said Hughes of the manmade lakes in Shasta County. “We’ve filled canyons with water. They have ridges and peaks and saddles.”
Someone about should watch the water while the boat is in motion to make sure it doesn’t hit rock or shallows.
6. Watch the time and speed
Know the laws and policies for low-light and dark hours. Never water ski or operate a personal water craft between sunset and sunrise.
Vessels on Lake Shasta must follow the 15-mile per hour speed limit from 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise.
“For Lake Shasta, it’s a 5-mile per hour speed limit within 100 feet of shore,” Hughes said.
Other water bodies and parks have different restrictions. Contact a park’s visitor center or marina to know the rules for a specific area.
7. Know your stuff
Boat operators should know how to safely navigate the vessel and follow the law. People ages 16 to 20 must have their California Boater’s Education Card in their possession while operating a recreational vessel. Kids ages 12 to 15 years old may operate a vessel only if someone age 18 or older supervises.
“We have the education books for the boating education cards,” Hughes said. Pick one up at the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office at 300 Park Marina Circle in Redding, or at Bridge Bay Marina.
Go to the California Division of Boating and Waterways website at http://www.dbw.ca.gov/ for safety specifics and updates. Check out the NSBC’s Safe Boating resource kits at https://safeboatingcampaign.com/
Law enforcement officers aren’t the only ones who help make recreation safe.
The faces and cases they’ve seen motivated Reiner and his partners to help stop tragedies before happen. They’ll distribute 1,000 life jackets to kids on June 30 at the firm at 2851 Park Marina Drive.
“There are a lot of parents who can’t afford it (life vest), or don’t know the dangers,” Reiner said. Even “if more than a thousand (kids) come — we’ll get them a life jacket.”
What: Children’s life jackets distributed free.
When: 9 a.m. to noon on June 30
Where: Law office of office of Reiner, Slaughter and Frankel, located at 2851 Park Marina Dr., Suite 200, Redding.
Information: This event is open to children ages 14 and younger. Representatives from the Shasta County Sherriff’s office and the Coast Guard Auxiliary will fit children with free lifejackets, one per child. The number of jackets available is limited to 1,000. Each child must be present to receive a free life jacket.