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Safely enjoying lakes and rivers in Oklahoma

Friday, June 23, 2017

For many Oklahomans, there is no better summertime activity than spending time at the lake. Putting a few important safety measures in place while on the water can help ensure a fun, accident-free experience for everyone.

“Even the strongest swimmers can be at risk for an accident or potentially drowning in lakes and rivers,” said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. “Compared to pools, swimming in natural bodies of water requires more skill and energy because you have to manage conditions such as cold water, air temperature, currents and waves.”

One of the most basic precautions is to swim only in areas clearly marked for that activity.

Meanwhile, everyone should wear a personal floatation device, or life jacket, while inside the boat. In fact, according to Oklahoma Department of Public Safety boating safety requirements, all boats are required to carry one wearable, U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD for each person on board.

Also, anyone 12 years or younger on board boats less than 26 feet long must wear a PFD when the vessel is underway.

“PFDs should fit each person correctly and the buckles and straps on each one should be working properly,” Peek said. “You can check the label to confirm a PFD is U.S. Coast Guard approved.”

Before heading out to boat or swim, check the weather forecast and water conditions and monitor both regularly while on or in the water.

“Watch out for any unexpected shifts in the air or water temperature or fast moving currents, waves and rapids,” Peek said. “Also, be on the lookout for any hint of severe weather. Get out of the water immediately at the first signs of thunder and lightning.”

Become familiar with any potential hazards in the area where people are swimming or boating, including dams, underwater obstacles and debris moving on top or under the surface of the water.

Be aware of aquatic vegetation and animals, as well, that could get entangled in swimmers’ feet or may be living in and around the water.

In case of an emergency, make sure there is easy and quick access to safety equipment, such as reaching or throwing implements, a phone to call authorities for help, PFDs and a first aid kit.

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