LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Spring break marks the beginning of the boating season for most Arkansans. The U.S. Coast Guard and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission want to remind everyone to check their life jackets and other safety equipment before heading out to the water this year.
"The days may be getting warmer, but that water is still pretty cold," said Alex Hinson, Boater Education coordinator for the AGFC. "And cold water poses many threats for people if they fall overboard."
According to Hinson, the shock of being dunked in cold water causes your body to naturally begin to draw in air.
"It literally takes your breath away," Hinson said. "If you're already struggling to stay afloat, drawing in water during those gasps for air can be all it takes to drown." The most essential piece of safety equipment to prevent drowning from this circumstance isn't any secret. Hinson and other Boater Education instructors say it on a near daily basis.
"The number one way to prevent drowning during a boating accident is to wear a functional life vest that fits properly." Hinson said.
Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, Boating Law Administrator for the AGFC agrees that a life vest is essential. She says a few Arkansans unfortunately die each year because they didn't heed this warning.
"We've already had a few boating fatalities this year because the people were not wearing life vests," said Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, Boating Law Administrator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "It's just like a seat belt; if you don't wear it, it won't work."
Hinson warns against a hasty check just to see if you have life vests in the boat. Inspect them to make sure they are in good shape and fit properly.
"The fabric and stitching of life vests weathered by the sun and elements can deteriorate," Hinson said. "Double-check the fit, too. You may have put on a pound or two from Thanksgiving and Christmas that your New Year's resolution workouts haven't gotten yet."
The beginning of boating season also is a good time to check any inflatable life vests you may own to ensure they function properly. Many of these vests use air cartridges to inflate when a string is pulled or the vest is completely immersed in water. Check the vests according to manufacturer's recommendations to ensure they deploy when needed.
"Another key piece of safety equipment is a throwable life preserver with a rope attached," Hinson said. "Even if a person has a life vest on, cold water can sap your strength and make it difficult to swim. A partner in the boat can throw them a floatation cushion and haul them back to safety."