About 700 boaters are expected to die this year in boating accidents, and most will occur inland on rivers, streams and lakes.
That number would drop by as much as 75 percent if every boater wears a life jacket, the U.S. Corps of Engineers says.
The Corps, which operates more than 2,500 recreation areas, oversees several lakes in the region, including Lake Wappapello and Rend Lake near Benton, Ill. And it has suggestions for boaters who plan to use any of the lakes this summer.
First, boat operators should take appropriate safety courses and understand state and local laws. Information on classes is available at the U.S. Coast Guard's site (www.uscgboating.org/safety), and the BoatU.S. Foundation (www.boatus.org) also offers online courses. Insurance providers often offer discounts to boaters who have completed a boating safety course.
Second, check to be sure proper safety and emergency equipment is on board before venturing onto the water. That includes a fire extinguisher, visual distress signals, anchor and anchor line, paddles and oars, tool kit, horn or whistle, spare fuel, flashlight, first-aid kit, mooring line, pup bailer, food, water and a mariner's radio.
Third, a properly fitted life jacket is required by law for every person on board a boat. More than 80 percent of drowning victims last year in the United States did not wear a life jacket.
Safety programs are available at several Corps lakes, including Lake Wappapello (call 573-222-8562) and Rend Lake (618-724-2493).