Don’t become a statistic

Cody Fulkerson, 23, of Springfield, Oregon wakeboards for the first time at Dorena Reservoir on July 12, 2014. (Photo by Kyra Fulkerson, Willamette Valley Project)

Cody Fulkerson, 23, of Springfield, Oregon wakeboards for the first time at Dorena Reservoir on July 12, 2014. (Photo by Kyra Fulkerson, Willamette Valley Project)

Wear your life jacket!  If you don’t have one – Borrow One!

 By Melissa Rinehart, Natural Resource Management Section

Corps of Engineers imageThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts 370 million visitors annually at its more than 400 lake and river projects.

Last year, Portland District recorded 9.8 million of those at its own recreation areas – in the Willamette Valley, Rogue River area and along the Columbia River, where visitors of all ages enjoyed biking, hiking, boating, fishing, camping, windsurfing and more.

On average, however, 168 people per year, lose their lives while recreating on Corps-managed lands and waters across the country – 84 percent of whom were not wearing a life jacket and who probably never intended to end up in the water.

According to national public fatality statistics, the most at-risk visitor groups are males between the ages of 18 and 35, not wearing a life jacket and swimming in non-designated areas. Other causes for water-based recreation injuries and fatalities also include falls from boats, docks and other places. Alcohol or drugs often play a contributing factor in these instances.

In May 2012, Major General Michael Walsh (Retired), Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations, launched the Corps’ Strategic Campaign Plan for Reducing Public Fatalities, emphasizing the need to reach those who are most at risk. According to the plan, the target group (males, aged 18-35) has little perception of risk and, therefore, little motivation to wear a life jacket – although recent studies have shown that influencers (i.e. spouses and children) can be instrumental in gaining behavioral change.

One of the ways Portland District is reaching this target audience and their influencers at its parks is by providing free use of life jackets through the Life Jacket Loaner Station program.

“Studies have shown that it only takes about 60 seconds to drown and at least 10 minutes for a strong swimmer to put on a life jacket after entering the water,” said Patti Williams, chief of the Natural Resources Management Section for the Portland District. “You never know when you may end up in the water so it’s better to start with your life jacket on.”

The loaner stations carry life jackets for both adults and children and are available in the Columbia River Gorge at LePage Park and Plymouth Park swim beaches and boat docks, and at the Bonneville Lock and Dam Hamilton Island boat ramp. In the Willamette
Valley, visitors will find loaner stations at the Pine Meadows campground and Lakeside Day Use area on Cottage Grove Reservoir, Schwarz Park on Dorena Reservoir and at Richardson Park on Fern Ridge Reservoir. Visitors to the Rogue River area in southern Oregon will find loaner stations at Joseph H. Stewart State Park boat ramp and Takelma Park boat ramp.

According to national recreation statistics, 96 percent of drowning victims would be alive today if they had worn a life jacket.

“If we save even one life then we have succeeded with our life jacket loaner program,” said Dwane Watsek, Chief of Operations for the Portland District. “Wearing your life jacket is the single most important lifesaving action that you can take to protect yourself and your family.”

Life Jacket Loaner stations at many Portland District recreation areas in the Columbia Gorge, Willamette Valley

Life Jacket Loaner stations at many Portland District recreation areas in the Columbia Gorge, Willamette Valley
and in the Rogue River area carry life jackets for both adults and children. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Key Facts and Figures

  • It’s important that everyone (Corps employees, volunteers and partners) stress the importance of wearing a life jacket when in and around water.
  • 89 percent of water-related fatalities involve those not wearing a life jacket.
  • 39 percent of public recreation fatalities involved individuals between the ages 18 – 35.
  • More than 80 percent of swimming fatalities occurred in non-designated swimming areas.

For more information about the Corps’ water safety program, visit http://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/Recreation/WaterSafety.aspx