Contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District install a 23-foot-tall concrete shaft enclosure weighing approximately 120,000 pounds as part of the guard wall at the Monongahela River Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Nov. 16, 2023.

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Park rangers respond to drownings by promoting water safety

Nashville District
Published June 29, 2023
Park Ranger Bradley Potts hands out water safety goodies to kids recreating at Cordell Hull Lake's Defeated Creek Recreation Area June 24, 2023, to encourage them to stay safe when swimming. Park rangers at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District lakes made 155,187 public contacts, conducted 1,431 vessel inspections, and supported more than 200 public outreach events in 2022 in support of water safety initiatives. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Bradley Potts hands out water safety goodies to kids recreating at Cordell Hull Lake's Defeated Creek Recreation Area June 24, 2023, to encourage them to stay safe when swimming. Park rangers at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District lakes made 155,187 public contacts, conducted 1,431 vessel inspections, and supported more than 200 public outreach events in 2022 in support of water safety initiatives. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Bradford Grems patrols on Cheatham Lake in Ashland City, Tennessee, while looking out for public safety June 26, 2023. Grems frequently engages boaters to ensure they have required safety equipment onboard their vessels, and encourages everyone to wear their life jackets. He also spreads the message to boat captains that boating, and alcohol, never mix. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Bradford Grems patrols on Cheatham Lake in Ashland City, Tennessee, while looking out for public safety June 26, 2023. Grems frequently engages boaters to ensure they have required safety equipment onboard their vessels, and encourages everyone to wear their life jackets. He also spreads the message to boat captains that boating, and alcohol, never mix. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Bradley Potts replenishes the Life Jacket Loaner Station at Cordell Hull Lake's Defeated Creek Recreation Area June 24, 2023, in Defeated, Tennessee. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains the project and provides life jackets free of charge to the public that recreates at the designated swimming area. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Bradley Potts replenishes the Life Jacket Loaner Station at Cordell Hull Lake's Defeated Creek Recreation Area June 24, 2023, in Defeated, Tennessee. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains the project and provides life jackets free of charge to the public that recreates at the designated swimming area. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

Park Ranger Brad Potts highlights the importance of wearing a life jacket to stay safe when recreating at Corps of Engineers lakes in this water safety public service announcement. #USACE #PleaseWearIt #WearIt #ILoveThisLifeJacket #WaterSafety (USACE Video by Leon Roberts)

Park Ranger Brad Grems stresses that boat captains should never ever drink alcohol and operate a vessel while recreating at Corps of Engineers lakes in this boating safety public service announcement. #USACE #Boating #BoatingSafety #WaterSafety #ArriveAlive (USACE Video by Leon Roberts)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 29, 2023) – Park rangers in Tennessee and Kentucky are stepping up efforts to promote water safety in lieu of 10 tragic drownings already this recreation season at Corps lakes in the Cumberland River Basin.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials report that of these drownings, three were kayaking, two were boating, and five were swimming. None wore a life jacket.

“A life jacket isn’t for fashion. It’s for you and your family to ensure your safety,” said Park Ranger Bradford Grems at Cheatham Lake in Ashland City, Tennessee. “A life jacket will keep you afloat so you can make it to safety or be rescued.”

The Nashville District operates 10 lakes in the Cumberland River Basin. Boaters depart from one of 279 boat ramps, or more than 17,000 marina slips on 201,385 water acres the Corps manages or leases. In addition, visitors recreate at 283 recreation areas and 159,495 acres of public land along 3,800 miles of shoreline, hike on 119 hiking trails, and fish from one of 60 fishing docks and piers.

The lakes can get very saturated with people and vessels, especially in the summer and over holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. There are boat operators that have little or no experience, and people are often willing to take risks for the thrill of the moment. Unfortunately, these actions can lead to tragedy.

Trey Church, chief of Nashville District’s Operation Section, said the district averaged 31 fatalities on its lakes per year in the 1970s. Conversely, there were 15 drownings per year on average from 2013 to 2022. He said cutting fatalities in half over this period is largely due to efforts over half a century by the Corps of Engineers to inform the public about water safety and to specifically educate men between the ages of 18 and 35, which make up the highest number of fatalities according to statistics.

“It is imperative for individuals to prioritize safety, follow pertinent regulations, and practice responsible decision making to prevent water-related accidents,” Church said. “Understanding and respecting the risks associated with water-based activities, and preparing for ever-changing conditions, can greatly reduce the likelihood of serious accidents, and promote a safe environment for all visitors.”

Church said Nashville District park rangers are promoting water safety with an increased presence on weekends and holidays during the recreation season, conducting public outreach programs to raise awareness, and by utilizing enhanced water safety patrols and vessel inspections.

Park Ranger Brad Potts at Cordell Hull Lake in Carthage, Tennessee, said visitors should consider swimming at recreation areas with designated swim beaches or in coves away from the navigation channels that are very busy. Inexperienced boaters need to pay close attention to the channel markers and buoys, and might want to get out on the lake in the early morning or late afternoon when there may be less boating traffic, he added.

“The buoys are there to either tell you where to go, or tell you there is something dangerous, or tell you that you need to operate your boat in a certain way, like in a no-wake zone,” Potts said. “When in doubt, stay in between the red and green buoys.”

Potts is a certified Corps of Engineers boating instructor and wants boat captains to know they are responsible for the safety of their passengers, which also means not mixing alcohol with the operation of a boat. He also said it’s important to have U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets within reach for every passenger and to have other required safety equipment onboard the vessel. Other items such as a first aid kit and fully charged cell phone are recommended as well.

“Take care of yourself and the people you are with,” Potts said. “It’s a great idea for all passengers to wear a life jacket. Lots of things can happen, even with the safest boaters. You can be involved in an accident. You could be knocked out, have a broken limb, or some other injury that keeps you from swimming well. Having a life jacket on may save your life.”

Park Rangers Grems and Potts have been involved with supporting law enforcement agencies during searches for drowning victims, and both say seeing families grieve for their loved ones during a recovery is an experience that makes both of them want to safeguard visitors and educate them about water and boating safety.

“We’ve had to be involved in search and rescues assisting local emergency services, TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency), sheriff’s office, when drownings happen on our lakes,” Potts said. “We don’t have to do what they have to do, but we’re still around and see the victims and the families, and that’s hard to see. It’s why we promote water safety like we do.”

Grems said he worked an incident where a person exiting a vessel at a boat ramp fell into the water in less than six feet of water.

“They hit their head on the dock knocking them unconscious, and before family could rush over, the person had already slipped under the water and out of sight. The body was recovered just a few feet under the dock in shallow enough water to stand in,” Grems said.

There were 13 total fatalities in 2022. The greatest number of fatalities occurred during the months of May, June, July, and August when more people were visiting Corps lakes. A total of 62 percent of those fatalities were related to boating and fishing, 24 percent involved with swimming, seven percent related to hunting, and seven percent categorized as “other.” In addition, 85 percent were males and 15 percent females in the age range of 17 to 63.

Accidents are usually attributed to people taking risks they shouldn’t be taking, such as jumping off cliffs, swimming long distances in the path of boaters, swimming at boat ramps, swimming alone, boating while impaired, and boating at high speeds.

The Nashville District park ranger community strives to prevent fatalities by educating and promoting an enhanced culture of water safety at its 10 lakes, and encourages visitors to be vigilant and take water and boating safety seriously. A drowning is a silent activity, which is why it’s always good to have friends and family keep watch for each other.

“Never leave children unattended near water, whether it’s a pool or lake, or any other body of water,” Church said. “Make sure you are always prepared.”

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district.


Chick Lock

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