Enforcement of the new life jacket wear requirements at the four Vicksburg District north Mississippi lakes is just around the corner. On May 22 the new rules will take effect at Arkabutla Lake, Sardis Lake, Enid Lake and Grenada Lake.
The Mandatory Life Jacket Program is a pilot program that was designed to help USACE Headquarters determine whether more stringent life jacket rules will improve overall wear rates. Although the Corps’ water safety education program has increased the public’s awareness about water safety, it has done very little to actually generate an increase in life jacket wear rates. National statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard indicate approximately 20 percent of all boaters actually wear life jackets.
Concerns over the number of water-related fatalities at USACE water resource projects along with statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard prompted the mandatory life jacket pilot program. The overall goal is to increase life jacket wear rates; however, as wear rates increase, water-related fatalities should decrease. Lives will be saved!
When making plans to spend a day at the lake, nobody plans to have an accident. Yet, accidents occur and often they result in lives lost. That fun day at the lake becomes a lifelong reminder of a tragic loss – a loss that might have been prevented.
As you are making plans for your trips to the lake this summer, don’t forget to include safety! Leave a trip plan with a family member or neighbor. Include your destination, contact information, and estimated time of return along with the names of everyone traveling with you, and the name of the boat ramp, day use area or campground where you can be located. If you don’t know how to swim, learn. If you can’t swim, wear a life jacket. Never swim, fish, boat or hike alone. Parents – supervise your children’s activities.
Finally, obey all posted rules and regulations. Don’t forget about the new life jacket rules. For the public’s convenience, signs with the new rules listed on them are being installed at all boat ramps and swimming beaches and posters are being placed on bulletin boards in day use areas and campgrounds.
The new rules are:
• All persons must wear a Type I, II, or III U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while swimming outside of designated swimming areas.
• All persons must wear a Type I, II, or III U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while skiing or being pulled by a vessel, regardless of length.
• All persons must wear a Type I, II, or III U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on powered vessels 16 to 26 feet in length whenever under power by the main propulsion unit. (This does not include when the vessel is stationary or when it is powered by a trolling motor.)
• All persons must wear a Type I, II, or III U.S. Coast Guard-approved at all times on powered vessels less than 16 feet in length or on non-powered vessels, regardless of length. (Non-powered vessels include, but are not limited to canoes, kayaks, sailboats, paddleboats, and flatbottoms/johnboats.)
A few activities not covered by the new rules are hand-grabbling, wade-fishing, and bank fishing. However, if you use a vessel to go to and from your fishing location, you will be required to follow the new rules. Wading is an activity often associated with swimming.
However, wading is not covered by the new rules. Wading is defined as walking in shallow water (less than knee-deep). Therefore, if you are walking along the shore in shallow water, you will not be required to wear a life jacket. Similarly, a person sitting or reclining in a lawn chair in shallow water (along the shore) will not be required to wear a life jacket.
If you would like more information about the Mandatory Life Jacket Pilot Program, contact the Mississippi Project Management Office at (662) 578-3873 or (662) 712-1201 or one of the lake field offices – Arkabutla Lake (662) 562-6261, Sardis Lake (662) 563-4531, Enid Lake (662) 563-4571 or Grenada Lake (662) 226-5911.