Having fun and staying alive at the lake

The Means Report

Safety needs to be on the mind no matter what body of water you are around, but how you handle a pool can be much different than being on a lake or in the ocean. What do you do then? Whether it is dealing with currents or operating a boat, knowledge is the key to safety.

Brad Means: Let’s transition from swimming pool safety to being safe on larger bodies of water like lakes or your upcoming beach trip for the summer. And I can’t think of a better expert to help us do that than Ranger Kevin Madsen. He is a park ranger on Strom Thurmond Lake. Clarks Hill technically, it’s the J. Strom Thurmond Lock and Dam at Clarks Hill, that should make everybody on both sides of the state line happy. Kevin, thanks for what you do to keep us safe and thanks for being here.

Kevin Masden: Very happy to be here, thanks for the invite.

Brad Means: Absolutely, anytime, how are lake levels? We’ve had all this rain, the lake has to be overflowing, right?

Kevin Masden: No, it’s right at normal.

Brad Means: Is it?

Kevin Masden: Yes, it is. It’s recovered from the drought at this point and we’re back to where we should be.

Brad Means: Alright, well, that’s good, that’s good. So just to help viewers understand your area of expertise, our first guest talked about swimming pool safety. Are you still focusing on swimmers or are you more of a boat guy?

Kevin Masden: We’re focusing on everybody on the water, whether they’re on the water, whether they’re on the shore fishing, or whether they’re on the shore swimming from one of our swim beaches. We’re focusing on them all.

Brad Means: If a boat with an officer pulls up next to my boat is that you guys in the boat, the Corps of Engineers, or is it DNR, or could it be either?

Kevin Masden: Could be either.

Brad Means: And talk to me about some of the biggest problems that you see on the water when it comes to safety shortcomings.

Kevin Masden: The biggest problem we see on the water is people that are overestimating their swimming ability. They swim out to the islands or they swim out to the buoys. We had one this weekend that was out beyond the yellow buoy line and I expressed my concerns for his safety. He was out there with two young children. And I was very, very concerned about that. I asked him to float with a life jacket nearby just in case something did happen. Some issue happens, to make sure there’s something there to help him in an emergency situation, because you never know what can happen next.

Brad Means: What would you say to people who say, “But wait, I’m a strong swimmer, “I do many laps in the pool each day, “therefore I can make it on the lake.”

Kevin Masden: Can you swim unconscious? What happens when you hit your head, if you fall out the boat and you hit your head on the stern, hit your head on the bow. You’re unconscious, are you gonna be able to swim? And also, in a lake, you’ve got currents. You’ve got under, submerged obstacles. You can’t see the bottom. In a swimming pool you can see the bottom, you might have a lifeguard standing by. You have none of that at the lake. You’ve gotta be on your own, you’ve gotta be able to be safe.

Brad Means: I love that you said that. My 16 year old went down to the Savannah River the other day and he said he might jump in, and I said, “Please don’t, you’re not familiar with the current.”

Kevin Masden: Absolutely.

Brad Means: You think it doesn’t look like much, but it is. What about drinking and boating, or drinking and swimming? That’s a popular thing to do. What kind of problems do you see there?

Kevin Masden: Oh, a lot of our drownings are related to alcohol. People that get disoriented, get confused. A lot of people don’t understand that when you go under water, you may not know which way’s up. And a person that’s inebriated might go straight to the bottom. Because they think they’re coming up. We don’t allow alcohol at Strom Thurmond at all, out on the lake because of the, too many times it’s related to the drownings and too many times it’s related to serious injury on the lake.

Brad Means: I can’t get behind the wheel of my boat or get in the boat with my friends and drink beer.

Kevin Masden: Legally, on another reservoir, yes you can. But there is a boating under the influence. If you are over the limit, you can receive a boating under the influence and it’s just as severe, if not more so, than a driving under the influence in a vehicle.

Brad Means: Tell me how that works. Is the blood alcohol content limit the same, is it different when you’re on a boat?

Kevin Masden: I’m not 100% sure where that is. When we have a person that we suspect is intoxicated, we usually call the DNR to help us out or possibly the local sheriff to help us out with those situations. They take over those things. But basically the limit is the same.

Brad Means: So what kind of programs or courses do you all offer at the Corps of Engineers, that we could take or maybe just find out more about before we even get to the water?

Kevin Masden: The Coast Guard Auxiliary is one of our partners on the lake, and the Power Squadron. They have many classes, they’re actually going, I think they were in Evans, over the weekend, the Memorial Day weekend, teaching boating safety and water safety. And they’re a great partner of us. Sea Tow also, they’re also a partner in water safety. They also help with education and training programs as well. There’s also online training with boat, U.S. Boating, I believe it is, that offers an online course and you can get a certificate there. And that might help with your insurance, but it’ll certainly help you be safe on the lake.

Brad Means: And I love that you brought the handbook of South Carolina boating laws and responsibilities. There’s a handbook for Georgia boating laws and responsibilities. Great not just for new boat owners, but for existing boat owners who think they know, but they really don’t.

Kevin Masden: Absolutely.

Brad Means: The rules of the water. Talk to me about the jacket you’re wearing. I was gonna call it a life jacket but it doesn’t look like your typical life jacket.

Kevin Masden: It isn’t your typical life jacket, but it is a Coast Guard approved life saving device. This life jacket that I have here, there’s two types of them. One of them is an automatic, that’s the one I have. It has a barometric switch here. If that barometric switch is submerged, it automatically inflates. Remember I was talking to you a little bit about can you swim when you’re unconscious? This will thing will inflate if you’re unconscious.

Brad Means: Where can we get those?

Kevin Masden: These can be purchased at Academy, but you’ve gotta be careful. A lot of folks go after the cheap ones that don’t have that barometric switch, which are good for folks that are maybe out there swimming and not in a situation where they could have a traumatic injury. But I always recommend these because you never know what’s gonna happen. No matter what happens, when this hits the water, it will inflate. It also has an automatic on the bottom. If you ever feel insecure, you can inflate it yourself. And then, of course, you can automatically inflate it with an air valve on the inside of the zipper.

Brad Means: Kevin, what… When should you wear a life jacket?

Kevin Masden: I say you should wear a life jacket all the time. The rules have certain regulations. Adults of course, don’t have to wear a life jacket. They have to have one on board the boat, that has to be able to fit and has to be readily accessible. Can’t be stored in an under compartment. Because you’ve gotta be able to reach into that thing in a hurry. But I say, you’d better put that thing on. Because I tell you one thing, I challenge people all the time. Try to put that life jacket on after you get into the water.

Brad Means: Yeah, it’s very difficult, I was gonna say impossible. But you’re right, a lot of people say it’s uncool, it’s cumbersome. It doesn’t matter if you just put it on and forget about it, like sunscreen. It could really make a huge difference.

Kevin Masden: And that’s what this is all about. It’s comfortable, I can fish. A lot of the professional fishermen love these life jackets because they’re required to wear a life jacket in tournaments. But they can wear something like this, then it’s not so cumbersome, but yet they’re safe. If you fall out of the boat, this thing will put you right back up onto the surface.

Brad Means: Probably two more quick questions. Do you have people still try to drive too close to the dam? Any problems with that that you’re noticing?

Kevin Masden: We’ve worked a little bit with deterrents, in terms of that, trying to keep them a little bit further away. And of course, we’ve stepped up our patrols, but nothing too much at this point.

Brad Means: And then my last question has to do with supervision. We talked to the Family Y expert a moment ago about kids being left unattended at a pool. What about when you take a trip to the lake and maybe just the teenagers want to head out there? Your thoughts on that?

Kevin Masden: I say that you should have an adult under supervision at all times. A lot of people don’t understand that if you’re drowning, you cannot scream for help. You have to have a buddy there, an adult buddy preferably, or an older teenager, maybe. But somebody to watch that child, or watch that, watch yourself, watch you. Not to cause any offense but what happens if you have a heart attack?

Brad Means: Absolutely.

Kevin Masden: And you’re out there. In trouble, who’s gonna help you? You can’t call for help, who’s going to call help for you? And I say, hey, you’ve gotta be within 30 seconds. 30 seconds of a child, 60 seconds of an adult, that’s what it takes to drown. So you’ve gotta get there, you’ve gotta get them out of the water. Do not sit at the picnic table and watch them from a distance. Get down there to the beach, get down there in the sand, preferably get in the water with them so you’re right there if you need help.

Brad Means: Well, I do appreciate everything that you do. I want to make sure I get the dog’s name right. Y’all have a mascot now, Bobber, correct?

Kevin Masden: That is correct, he is Bobber the water safety dog. He is a star of cartoon and coloring book.

Brad Means: That is so good, and we’re gonna meet Bobber on our website and our social media sites. I would invite you to go to those addresses, we’ll give them to you in just a moment. But you’ll meet Bobber the dog and find out more about the good that Bobber is doing to generate that awareness. I mean, that’s something that any child or grown up can identify with.

Kevin Masden: Absolutely.

Brad Means: Love that program. Kevin Madsen, Ranger with the Army Corps of Engineers, thank you for all you do.

Kevin Masden: You’re very welcome.

Brad Means: Appreciate you very much. Be safe out there on the water. Common sense advice from our experts today, you just have to follow it, though.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.