Staying safe on the water this Memorial Day weekend

Published May 25, 2012

Rock Island, Ill. – Memorial Day weekend is considered the kick-off to summer and that means millions of Americans will visit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) lands and waters for the holiday. Park rangers and volunteers will be working this weekend and all summer to increase visitor’s awareness of the importance of practicing sensible and thoughtful activities in and around USACE waters.

In 2011, 197 people lost their lives while visiting USACE lands and waters, with the majority of these tragedies occurring in and around water. This year USACE officials are working to reduce the number of fatalities at the more than 2,500 USACE-managed recreation areas nationwide. Additional signage will be placed at USACE-managed recreation areas, and park personnel will be stressing the importance of water safety when talking with visitors during this summer season.

The Corps’ Rock Island District manages recreation sites at its five reservoirs and along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. In fiscal year 2011, the District’s 1,959 campsites, 20 boat ramps, eight public beaches, and five Visitor Centers experienced nearly 15 million visits.

People of all ages are strongly encouraged to practice water safety this summer season. Before you head in or around the water consider these five water safety facts:

  • Alcohol and Water Don’t Mix - Many drowning fatalities involve alcohol; even one beer can impair balance, vision, judgment, and reaction time. Research shows that four hours of boating, exposure to noise, vibration, sun, glare, and wind produces fatigue that simulates drunkenness. Boating fatigue combined with alcohol consumption intensifies the effects of both and increases accident risks.
  • Boaters! - Know your boat and know the rules of the road and ask passengers to be an extra set of eyes. Be familiar with governing federal and state laws and have proper safety equipment onboard before boating. Take a boat safety course. As an added incentive, some insurance companies offer discounts to boaters who have successfully completed a boating safety course.  
    • “Wear a life jacket; don’t just carry one on board. Most of those who drown never had the intention of being in the water,” says John Punkiewicz, outdoor recreation planner for the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Region II Vice President for the National Water Safety Congress.
    • Make sure the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved and appropriately sized. Coast Guard law requires children under the age of 13 to wear it, unless otherwise specified by state law. Know your state law!
    • Don’t overload the boat (consider boat size, the number passengers, and extra equipment before loading). Check your boat for all required safety equipment and make sure your passengers know where it is. Carry a set of navigational charts on board and be knowledgeable about the body of water. Check the weather forecast. File a float plan (where you are going & when you plan to return) with family or friends who are not on the vessel.
  • Swimmers: Learn to swim well! - At U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites, swimming in non-designated areas is the highest (47 percent) cause for all water-related fatalities nationwide. Don’t take chances by over-estimating your swimming skills, and swim only in designated swimming areas. Never swim alone.
    • Watch your children at all times when around the water. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for those 1-14 years of age and the third leading cause for those less than 1 and ages 15-24, according to the Center for Disease Control. 
    • Never dive into lakes and rivers. Never rely on toys such as inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat. Reach or throw a floatation device to help someone in trouble and never approach them in the water unless you are a trained life guard!

Please make your visit to any recreation area a safe and enjoyable one. Taking water safety precautions saves lives — maybe your own. Have a fun and safe summer, learn to swim and remember to WEAR IT!

USACE is the nation’s largest federal provider of outdoor and water-based recreation, managing more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states and hosting more than 370 million visits per year. With 90 percent of these recreation areas within 50 miles of metropolitan areas they provide a diverse range of outdoor activities close to home and to people of all ages. For more information on USACE recreation sites and activities, visit

Release no. FY12-05-21