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Officials offer swimming, boating safety guidelines


Last updated 6/24/2020 at 12:42pm

With July 4 coming up and crowds expected to hit the water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other agencies are encouraging the public to be extra aware and cautious when it comes to activities like swimming and boating.

CPW posted this announcement on Twitter last week: "Listen up, Colorado: Five people drowned in reservoirs in our state last weekend. None wore personal flotation devices. Reservoir water is cold, and stand-up paddle boards are especially vulnerable to being blown over by wind. PLEASE wear a PFD on the water and make sure those with you wear one too."

Two individuals who drowned at Pueblo Reservoir recently were soldiers stationed at Fort Carson. Officials note that even strong, experienced swimmers are not immune to the shock of hitting the cold water if jumping out of a boat, and they can tire just like anyone else – especially dangerous when there are strong currents.

CPW offers the following safety tips:

Water Safety

Please note there are no lifeguards at Colorado State Park beaches. Therefore, swimming is at your own risk. In case of an emergency, call 911 and locate park staff. Park rangers are trained in CPR and first aid. Accidents happen quickly; don't take unnecessary risks!

Most importantly, learn how to swim before visiting a swimming area. Wear a life jacket/personal floatation device if you are not a strong swimmer, or you are getting tired. Some parks even lend out devices for free.

Supervise children at all times: Children age 12 or younger must have adult supervision at all times.

Never swim alone: Experienced swimmers can tire and get muscle cramps too.

Swim in designated swimming areas: Park staff have intentionally set aside the safest and best places for swimming. Please swim only in designated areas.

Other Risk Factors

Sun exposure: Wear sunscreen and reapply every few hours and whenever you exit the water. Hats, cover-up clothing and beach umbrellas can also provide shade and help prevent overexposure.

Hot sand: Bring along beach shoes for the whole family to avoid burned toes.

Heat stroke: Drink plenty of water, and listen to your body! Take breaks in the shade to avoid overheating.

Dehydration: No matter the temperature, proper hydration is crucial to a safe day outdoors.

Water conditions: Check with park staff to make sure the beach is open, as closures sometimes occur due to unsafe or poor water quality conditions.

Weather: Check the weather before you go and keep a close eye on lightning clouds and high winds.

Shallow waters: No diving.

Boating safety

Most boaters know they're required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket on board for every person on their boat. Boating safety advocates recommend that all boaters and passengers not only have a life jacket, but wear it at all times while boating.

Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket. Drowning is the reported cause of death in 77 percent of all boating fatalities – and 84 percent of drowning victims in recreational boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket in 2018.

The good news is that today's life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters know. Life jackets that use inflatable technologies are cool and comfortable. They may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. Many inflate automatically when immersed in water.

Drinking and boating

The Safe Boating Campaign, a worldwide effort focused on responsible boating, reminds boaters to boat sober this Fourth of July. Boating under the influence, or BUI, is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The July 4 holiday is around the corner, and unfortunately has become known for drinking and boating, and deadly accidents," said Peg Phillips, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, and lead organization for the Safe Boating Campaign.

"Operating a boat – or even being a passenger – is incredibly risky while under the influence of alcohol or drugs," continued Phillips. "Drunken passengers can easily fall overboard, swim near the propeller, lean over the side, or stand up in small boats causing the boat to capsize."

The side effects of alcohol or drug use, such as impaired judgment, reduced balance and poor coordination, are magnified while boating, due to environmental conditions from the sun, wind and boat motion.

"Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters, since most have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car," said Yvonne Pentz, communications director of the National Safe Boating Council. "Boaters should also always wear a life jacket, similar to wearing a seat belt when you're in a vehicle."

The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a partner of the Safe Boating Campaign, in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies nationwide, is coordinating the annual Operation Dry Water three-day weekend. This heightened BUI awareness and enforcement effort will be held from July 3 to July 5 in every U.S. state and territory.

Since the inception of the Operation Dry Water Campaign in 2009, law enforcement officers have removed 4,095 BUI operators from the nation's waterways and made contact with over 1.5 million boaters during the annual three-day weekend.

The Safe Boating Campaign is produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information visit

The U.S. Coast Guard's 2018 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, the latest official record of reported recreational boating accidents, notes the following:

• Drowning was reported as the cause of death in 77 percent of all fatalities (four out of five people died from drowning).

• Approximately 84 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

• In 2018, the Coast Guard counted 4,145 accidents that involved 663 deaths, 2,511 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.

• The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 3.6 percent decrease from the 2017 fatality rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

• Only 18 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.

• Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

• Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 19 percent of deaths.

• Where data was known, the most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (46 percent), personal watercraft (19 percent) and cabin motorboats (15 percent).


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