Untitled Document
About the Water Safety Council
Promoting boating, water sports, and lake front living safety
About the Water Safety Council

  Mission Statement, Goals, and Objectives of the
SML Water Safety Council

The Mission of the Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council is to promote boating, water sports, and lake front living safety on and around the Lake through education, training, and co-ordination of programming.
Goals and/or Objectives

1. Decrease the number of fatalities, injuries and boating accidents from the previous five or ten year average as well as the past year. *Review statistics when VDGIF releases their annual report.
2. Increase educational opportunities from the previous year by utilizing media outlets and continuing the publication of “Water Safety Notes”.* This collection should start April 1 of each year.
3. Support financially and logistically established safety programs in our community such as: the July 4th fireworks no wake zone, the vessel safety checks, and the Hot Shot ticketing program for children wearing PFD’s. In addition to, continue to search for other viable programs.*At the completion of the program, financial expenditures should be reviewed as well as program effectiveness.
4. Have a presence at appropriate venues to not only “fly the flag”, but create educational opportunities through displays and hand outs. Market the individual expertise of Council members to interact with local groups and schools through talks and discussions using WSC and other resource material available to increase safety awareness.*Include all of these events in an annual report.
5. Interact with and support the programs, as appropriate, of the Smith Mountain Lake Association. Work with them in a collaborative manor, within the financial resources of the organization. When necessary attempt to raise funds for out of budget expenses.     

Should you be involved in a boating accident, you must complete and submit a Boating Incident Report form (Download) to the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission.

Annual Report: 2014

The Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council had a very active year in 2014. Many of the Council members teach Boating Safety Education for the state as well as make presentations in the area elementary and secondary schools on water safety topics. In concert with state and local organizations, media outlets and a strong letter writing campaign, legislation that could have gutted the Boater Safety Education Act was stopped by Governor McAuliffe. The bill would exempt those forty five years or older from possessing a boater education completion card on their person when operating a powered vessel on the State waterways. It is interesting to note that forty nine percent of the boating accidents and deaths in Virginia are attributed to this same age group. We are certain we will see the same type of legislation rear its ugly head again during this legislative term, and we will again fight to protect our neighbors and retain this life saving legislation. Since the introduction of this important law, boating accidents and deaths have decreased dramatically.
We are still emphasizing the use of Personal Flotation Devices on and around the water through our Safety Sam signs that can be purchased and displayed on docks. Another popular program is initiated when children are spotted on docks, boats or around the water wearing life jackets. They are given “tickets” by Council members and local law enforcement officers. Theses tickets are an award for wearing their PFD’s and entitle the recipient to a free round of golf at Hot Shots when accompanied by an adult.
We also support through our members the No Wake Zone education and enforcement during the July fourth fireworks display. We have also initiated “Water Safety Notes” that are published in local news outlets. These timely articles discuss safety topics that are relevant for anyone around the Lake by our local Council experts.
After receiving a complaint concerning a boat rental agent we investigated and found this to be an isolated incident. The vast majority of our boat and PWC vendors are professional, offering great products and service. We commend them.
Some issues we are attempting to address through education are an uptick in serious injuries when two tubes with passengers are being pulled by one boat, and the damage done to shorelines, and docks as well as distressing swimmers when boats create large wakes to accommodate wake boarders.
Though accidents and death’s continue to decrease throughout Virginia water ways Smith Mountain Lake recorded three fatalities during night bass tournaments attributed to boater error and excessive speed in 2014. No life jackets were worn by anyone involved in the two fatal accidents. The Water Safety Council is urging everyone fishing or holding fishing tournaments to incorporate and adhere to “Best Practices”, which include no night bass tournaments, and mandating the use of Personal Flotation Devices when the boat is moving between fishing areas and to and from the dock or trailer. If you are involved in a boating accident, ejected at high speed, injured, or knocked unconscious give yourself a chance to survive by wearing your PFD.
Pete Lewis, a member of the Water Safety Council and a committed volunteer of many local organizations was awarded the Karl Martin Water Safety Award, for the year.
If you would like someone from the Water Safety Council to speak to your group or club regarding boating and/or water safety issues please contact Council Chair Patrick Massa at, pmassa@ycp.edu.


Members of the Water Safety Council
Bringing lake organizations together for safety
Members of the Water Safety Council
Boating Safety
Tips    Winter    Sobering    Vigilant    Night    Good Rules    Pets    Cold Water    Nice Vests 
Boating Safety

Five top tips from SML Water Safety Council
 #1: Use life jackets while boating. Make wearing one a must for children you have aboard and a strong recommendation for adults. A skipper or mate, while donning their own PFD, can simply say, “We really prefer that everyone on the the boat wears a life jacket...can I get one out for you?” At the very least have one for every passenger on deck where it will be quickly available. And remember that you, as the skipper, have every right to REQUIRE that PFDs are worn anytime you feel it is called for—bad weather, limited visibility (think nighttime!), towing or being towed, holiday weekend traffic. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep everyone safe, thus your prerogative to insist on life jacket use. SML Water Safety Council sells nice signs that remind children to wear life jackets on the dock as well. Get one at the SMLA office.
 #2: Never Swim Without a Partner. Whether from shore, off the dock or off the boat, use the old “buddy system” from your summer camp days to be sure someone is paying attention to every swimmer. And designate a responsible adult as the official “watcher” of children swimmers. Don't just presume “someone” will take on that role.
 #3: Get Educated. The Virginia Boater Education law is now five years old, and we've seen the accident rate plummet. There's no doubt that educated/aware boaters are safer boaters. If you or your loved ones haven't yet attended a Boat Virginia course, get scheduled. Anyone who's on the water needs to have working knowledge of the boating basics the course covers. Everyone who attends learns something. Remember: You don't know what you don't know!
 #4: Maintain a Proper Lookout. This is so important it's stated in both the International and Inland Rules of Navigation. Just as in driving, operator distraction is a major contributor to boating incidents. If your boat has an attentive lookout stationed, you have a chance of avoiding a collision with a boat that doesn't. Every operator is obligated to take action to avoid collision with another boat. Scan the waterway, anticipate potential dangers, clearly show your intended course and stay well clear of other vessels, obstacles, navigation aids, docks and swimmers.
 #5: Know the Rules of the Road. Boats being overtaken and boats ahead crossing from your starboard side (right front) have the right of way. Reduced visibility calls for reduced speed. Running lights are required during periods of low visibility—darkness, fog, rain. Keep to the right in channels, leave plenty of space when overtaking, and don't “fall in line” with boats towing skiers or tubers.
 Bonus Tip: Know and Maintain Your Boat/Equipment. Even relatively new boats can suffer burnt out running lights and other deficiencies. Arrange for a Vessel Safety Check of equipment and systems every year. Schedules of organized inspection events can be found at area marinas...or follow the "Boating Safety Checks" link at http://www.cgaux.org/ to arrange an inspection of your boat and PWCs nearby or at your own dock.  It's FREE, and it provides great peace of mind.

Winter Boating

Well it looks like winter weather has arrived in southwest Virginia.  Boating doesn't have to stop.  This can be an excellent time for fishing and hunting plus there are few other boaters to disturb your activities. But before going, the Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council would like you to think about some precautions and preparation that will reduce some cold weather risks.

Start with clothing. Think layers so that adjustments can be made during the day or evening. A good base layer is important.  The best outerwear will not keep you warm if the first layer is not right.  The trick is to keep you dry by wicking the moisture away so choose thermal long underwear in polypropylene or wool blends or one of the many new materials. Wool socks are also a plus.  Then add layers of non-cotton clothing of wool or fleece and top it off with a wind and water-resistant outerwear that will breathe.  The idea is to keep the warmth in but not to trap body moisture and get all clammy. Hands will need water-resistant insulated gloves and your head will need an insulated cap or watch cap. At boating speeds, slip on hoods and balaclavas are sometimes still cold, so another choice might be a sport utility mask.  Staying warm is not just for comfort but is key to safety as it helps in staying alert and making good decisions.

On the very outside, wear a life jacket.  A good life jacket is a “must-have” and a “must-wear” item.  Choose one that is adjustable and a comfortable fit over your winter outerwear.  Your summer life jacket may not fit well over winter layers and comfort is important here.  Another option here is a float coat. But whatever the choice, wear it.

Before departing, leave a float plan with someone.  Mainly it's just a description of the boat, who's aboard, where are you going, and when do you expect to return.  This obviously is a great help if something happens and assistance becomes desirable or necessary.

Check out your boat and be sure to keep distress signals aboard.  There are a number effective signal options.  For daytime, an orange 3 foot square distress flag or orange smoke flares are effective.  A strong flashlight or strobe light are good on lakes and rivers at night.  Horns or whistles are required equipment and a cell phone, protected from the water, is a great addition.

None of us plan to fall into the water, but it happens.  Think about a re-boarding plan.  This is something that must be done quickly and without swamping the boat.  Usually a re-board over the stern is best. Then dry clothing is needed.  A change of clothing in a drybag (SealLine, etc.) should be part of your winter gear.  A great way to do this is to put the clothes, socks and old sneakers into one of the vacuum sealed bags to make a compact package and store this in the drybag.

Be vigilant for the signs of hypothermia in yourself and others and, if occurring, take appropriate action. The early signs are typically:
• Tense, numb or weak muscles.
• Feeling fatigued or exhausted.
• Uncontrollable shivering.
• Slurred speech or blurred vision.

With a little attention to extra preparation, you should be ready to continue your boating activities while others are content to be inside sitting by the fire.  Be safe out there.


Some Sobering Numbers
By Sgt. Bryan L. Young
Conservation Police Supervisor
Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries

Numbers are unique in their ability to quantify, identify and describe. We learn numbers like 1492, 1607, 1776, and 3.14159265 in school. We have social security numbers, bank account numbers, phone numbers,, license numbers, PIN numbers, lucky numbers and more.  Numbers are everywhere.

The boating community has its own special numerals: vessel registration numbers; channel marker numbers; compass headings and GPS coordinates; boat lengths, widths, depths and horsepower. While all of these are important numbers, there are others we need to discuss as the boating season gets underway. And don’t worry--this will not involve algebra or trigonometry! 

Consider these easy numbers: In Virginia, operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a Class 1 misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to $2500 in fines and/or up to one year in jail. If you add up the court costs, attorney’s fees, increased insurance premiums and lost wages, the total cost of an alcohol-related arrest could approach or exceed $10,000, and that’s with no accident involved!

Perhaps you would rather consider smaller numbers. With a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) at or below 0.05 percent, Virginia law presumes that adults are not under the influence of alcohol. With a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 percent, there is no such presumption; your guilt or innocence will depend upon evidence presented.  But you are automatically presumed to be under the influence of alcohol in Virginia with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent.  So remember this: You can be arrested and proven to be under the influence of alcohol even though your BAC is less than 0.08 percent. And if you are under 21 years of age and have consumed alcohol, you can be arrested for boating with a BAC as low as 0.02 percent. Use of narcotics or other drugs may also result in an arrest for being under the influence of those substances. 

So how much alcohol is too much?  For most of us, 2-4 drinks in a short period of time will result in a BAC at or near 0.08 percent. However, you are impaired by alcohol as soon as you have even one drink. The effects begin as low as 0.02 percent--a decrease in visual acuity and some loss of judgment. These effects become more pronounced—and inhibiting--as more alcohol is consumed. At a BAC of 0.05 percent, there is loss of coordination, decreased ability to track moving objects, and increased reaction time.  Boat operators (and car drivers!) with  0.08 BAC suffer from poor coordination, lack of concentration, reduced peripheral vision and diminished depth perception—to name just a few. These effects are magnified by the conditions we find out on the water: sun, wind, motion, noise, and vibration. These stressors combine to intensify the effects of the alcohol and produce greater impairment than for someone with the same BAC who hasn’t been on the water.

You might think that all of this alcohol-level emphasis is just beating a dead horse. Well, you’d be right on the “dead” part. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use was the primary contributing factor in fatal boat accidents from 2009 to 2013, resulting in 75 deaths in 2013 alone. Alcohol is involved in nearly one-third of boating deaths and up to 70% of water related deaths in adults and adolescents.

I’ve given you a lot of numbers. The last number I will give you is one. You only have to be involved in one accident for your life to be drastically changed forever.  Be the one person who makes the choice to always boat sober.  Be the one person who is the designated operator that brings your family and friends home safe from a day on the water.  Because one accident, one injury, one death is still one too many.

For more information and resources please visit:

Staying Vigilant

The kids are back at school, the friends and relatives visits have tapered off, and just the Labor Day Holiday remains of another wonderful season at our Lake. You and your family decided to make this summer not only enjoyable, but safer than ever. You found a place to have your boat safety checked, and your vessel proudly displays the sticker. You took out all of your PFD’s and made sure they were still serviceable and you had enough, to correctly fit anyone who was on your boat. You decided it was time to act as a good example and bought inflatable PFD’s for yourself and the first mate not only to be safe, but also to act as a great role model. You installed a throwing line and buoy on your dock for emergencies and laminated and posted an emergency call list next to the phones. You bought a sign with your street address and mounted it on your dock, so you can be reached quickly by emergency personnel from the water when needed. You bought a “Safety Sam” sign from the SML Water Safety Council or retailers such as The General Store, The Cottage Gate, or Capps and committed to the pledge, that all children must wear lifejackets on the boat, on the dock and around the water and always swim with a buddy. They are 12”X18”, made of metal, and ready to be installed on your dock, for just $10, and are built to last multiple seasons.
We will probably emit a sigh of relief next week, but we must continue to be vigilant every minute of every day. As the season wanes it becomes difficult to keep our “A” Safety Game going. Review your boating safety manual, read the pamphlets produced by the Water Safety Council and other safety agencies, make sure everything you did at the beginning of the boating and swimming season is still valid and in place.
Our goal should be simple. Everyone safe, at all times. Stay vigilant, it pays off!

What doesn't make the local headlines until it is too late:
"Women paddling backwaters of local creek knocked from her kayak by boat's wake."
" Child suffered facial lacerations when close passing boat's wake pushed her up onto swim dock."
"Sculler capsized by boat's wake; power boat operator continued on without rendering assistance."
"Young canoeists overturned by boat wake; occupants assisted by nearby fisherman."
"Jet skier rips across (within jet ski length) end of dock floater nearly running over two NCAA swimmers coming around back of floater."
"Retiree, standing on his dock, sustained knee damage after being knocked down by boat wake."
"Floating dock in back of cove, damaged by boat wakes,  broke free and found drifting into main channel as a collision hazard just before night fall."
"Wake boarding boat entered creek area swamping two rowing shells and banged up retired couple sculling near their home."
"Skiers nearly struck by their opposing ski boats while they both tried to turn about in 185 foot wide creek end."
"Boat operator slings tube with child inside into floating dock.  Child injured, but miraculously saved when tube acted like an air-bag exploding upon impact with dock."
                                                                                                                I wish we had to make these up!

Would anyone want to be named responsible for the mishaps listed above?   Worse still, would you want your family members or friends to be the victims?  The disregard for courteous power boating and preventing boat wakes in the vicinity of man-powered small craft (canoes, kayaks, row boats, paddle boards), docks, swimmers, sailboats and other power boats with low freeboard has become  alarming with significant "close-calls" in the last two years.  
The force of a one foot high wake advancing at just 8 mph (larger boats, wakeboard and ski boats average 15-30 mph generating wakes 2-4 feet) is equivalent to a 250 foot-pound force per square foot, and there's always more than one coming a couple seconds later!  Would you be proud to apply that force to a child swimming up against a dock or piling?   Boats operating in displacement modes (plowing water) and those that weigh themselves down with water to create wakes can generate waves over three feet in height that can run for hundreds of feet with damaging knock-down power.   The power of a wake is chiefly in its height and the size of the trough between waves.  The size and power of a wake generally increases the deeper the hull and the heavier the boat.  The largest wakes are most often generated at lower speeds.  Simply reducing power and speed does not equate to reducing wake until you observe NO WAKE.  Just slowing and coming off plane will increase your wake. Once you generate a wake, you can't get it back so forethought is imperative.
What is the turning radius of your boat at towing speed?  Add on the swing distance of the tow rope with your loved one on the end.     Will every tube be an air-bag?   Is arriving at your destination two minutes earlier worth generating a damaging wake while in close proximity to docks, swimmers and small craft?   Understanding the forces at play and the effects make us all better power boat operators.
Some facts to remember;
- All motor powered craft (regardless of propulsion or activity) must yield right-of-way to human powered craft.  Get out of their way, slow way down and curtail your wake or stay on plane and give a very wide birth.  Avoid placing that human powered craft and its occupants in jeopardy.  There is no excuse for any other behavior.   If you find or put a craft in distress render assistance.  It is the law.
- Generating a wake within 50 feet of any dock, shoreline or structure is unlawful at SML.  Many States follow the "100 foot rule" with no wake within 100 feet of any shoreline.  Be kind and adapt that rule for all concerned; a wake will reduce in height and thus force by nearly one half after 100 foot of travel.  To help one judge distance, most docks range in length from 24 to 36 feet from the shoreline so  50 feet from a dock is more than twice a dock length away; 100 feet would be three to four lengths.
- Power boats are required to remain outside 100 feet from locations where there are divers, snorkelers or swimmers in the water.  It is much easier for boaters to recognize and avoid placing persons at risk if the International Blue and White "Alpha" flag or the traditional Red with White diagonal stripe flag (both meaning “Diver Down, Stand Clear") is flown at the specific location while people are in the water.  The same flag should be flown from escort craft accompanying distance swimmers. 
- All boat operators are responsible for the wake they generate and any damage or injury caused.   
Every time we operate a powered craft (gas or electric powered) our actions and decisions determine if we are courteous and safe operators or bordering on reckless endangerment.    Being safe and courteous power boat operators’ means we appreciate and accept responsibility for the safety and welfare of all on or near us, and in doing so endear ourselves to all on and along the waterways.    
That dear lady in her kayak had every right to enjoy peace up that creek with a paddle.

“Our Sight is Just Not Right at Night.”
Night Vision Physiology and Recreational Boating

Military and Commercial pilots, as well as Navy/Coast Guard/Merchant Marine bridge teams, receive training to understanding the physiological limitations associated with night vision and their risks to safe flight and navigation.  These limitations equally impact operating a recreational power boat at night.
The front of our eye is a system of lenses that focus the different levels of light into the back of the eye where the retina (containing the two types of photoreceptor cells) is stimulated sending signals to the brain.  Specifically the rod cells are concentrated in the peripheral of the retina and provide motion detection and our best night vision while contributing little to visual acuity.  The cone cells are more concentrated in the center of the retina giving us our sharp vision, but only when our surroundings are illuminated.  So physiologically the sight we have during the day is totally different at night and we are diminished in our capability to react at night the way we would normally react during daylight conditions where most of us are accustomed to power boating.   
The phenomena of night vision and what the impacts mean to us:

  • Your visual acuity will degrade with decreasing illumination.  A 20/20 boater will see 20/40 to 20/200 or less at night as the larger number of the receptor cells (cones) reduce processing.
  • Our eyes tend to fixate on a point straight ahead, while the center of your combined visual field (predominately cone cells) has a natural blind spot at night.  We can be blind dead ahead!
  • Your depth perception is degraded at night and further degrades as closure rate increases. 
  • Color distinction is degraded and colors like the red and green of navigation lights can become washed out or unknowingly ignored as a signal to our brain.
  •  If we fixate on a stationary light, that light can appear to move (Autokenetic Effect) tricking us into thinking we are not on a collision course.  
  •  Lit shorelines and large populated areas generate “light pollution” washing out running lights, anchor lights and navigation markers.   This makes it tough to “see and avoid.”
  •  It takes at least 30 minutes in the dark for our eyes to adapt to give us our best night vision. 
  • The percentage of oxygen (O2) in our bloodstream impacts night vision and visual acuity.  Factors of age, smoking, alcohol and dehydration can all degrade O2 levels. 
  • No discernable visual horizon (spatial reference) can induce vertigo to us while maneuvering. 
  • Fatigue or operating during our normal sleep cycles can enhance all these “phenomena”.

What is the outcome while operating a boat at night?  All of these physiological affects to sight can provide false or no input to an operator impeding accurate decision making.  These affects have historically caused aircraft to collide and fly into the ground, and ships to collide and run aground.  They apply to all of us while operating recreational power boats upon inland and coastal waters at night.
“Seeing is believing,” but understand what you do/do not see at night.  Know the characteristics of your waterway before you launch.  Discipline yourself to keep your head and eyes moving and scanning to avoid fixation and blind spots.  Operate only when fit to do so.  Slow down and operate your craft in a steady and predictable manner.  Give yourself time to accurately assess and react smartly.
The physiological impacts on vision at night are not an excuse for a mishap, but recognizing they exist and managing the risks will go a long way in avoiding one. 

Boating Fun on Smith Mountain Lake
                       by Paul M. Howell, SML Water Safety Council
                                   Boating Education Coordinator VDGIF

Boating on Smith Mountain Lake can and should be Fun, if Boat Operators
know and follow the Rules of The Road for Boat Operation.
Everyone who operates a boat should take an approved Boating Safety Course, either in a classroom or on line.
Depending on your age under Virginia law, it may be required.
Anyone who operates a Personal Water Craft (PWC) must be at least 14 years of age and carry proof that they have taken an approved Boating Education Course.
This July 1st anyone 45 years of age and younger, who operates a boat of 10 HP or greater must carry proof that they have taken an approved Boating Education Course.
Persons who have taken an approved course, in most cases receive an additional discount on their Boat Insurance.
Knowing and following the Rules of The Road makes Boating a fun sport.
When you operate your boat and meet another boater who does not know or follow the Rules of The Road you should slow down and stop if necessary to avoid a possible collusion.
You should stay on the right side on the channel to avoid a possible collision with an oncoming boat.
Do not overload your boat, check your capacity plate, remember that the capacity of a PWC is determined by the number of seats, and anyone being towed is considered on the PWC.
Remember to always wear your Life Jacket (PFD).
If you are involved in an accident or fall overboard you will not have time to put it on.
85 percent of people who die in a boating accident would have survived if they had been wearing a PFD at the time of the accident.
To learn more about Boating Safety Requirements,  Boating Safety Classes, and Virginia Boating laws please visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating.

Fido, Fun, and Flotation Devices

It is that time of year again, that we get to enjoy time on the lake.  What is better than enjoying a day on the water with our best friends? Our furry, four legged best friends.
Here are a few water safety tips for you and your dog:
-Save a life!
No exceptions! If your dog is on the boat or enjoying the water, your dog should be wearing a life preserver. It helps to keep an eye on them and the handle on the flotation device makes it easier to grab them if they were to fall in or need to be rescued.
- Not all dogs are good swimmers
Just like some of us are more comfortable in the water, some dogs are not natural swimmers.  Our pets can drown as fast (or faster) then a person. Do not assume your dog will stay afloat. A good idea is to have them play in shallow water first.
  -Keep your dog close!
Dogs don't understand the concept of resting.  They will swim and swim until they can't swim anymore.  Keep them close so that you can help pull them out of the water if necessary. Make sure you are able to handle your dogs on land because when pulling them from the water, they become way heavier.
  -Don't force your dog into the water.
You could easily scare your dog by pushing him into the water. You want it to be a fun time for all!
-Too much fun in the sun!
Look for signs of sunburn or heat stroke and be aware that paws can get easily burnt and blistered from hot sand or docks.
  -Rinse your dog off after swimming.
It is important to wash off chlorine and salt from pool water and bacteria and dirt that they may pick up from a pond or the lake.
-Also as an avid fisherman I wanted to stress the importance of flotation device and ignition kill switch use. With today's improvements the devices are comfortable and only take a second to put on which isjust as quick as an accident could happen. I often fish by myself and this extra safety step is crucial. Always plan for the unexpected!
I Hope these few tips help you and Fido have a safe and fun summer on the water!

Water Safety Notes from SML Water Safety Council—January, 2014
Cold Water Drowning = Death! Not Necessarily

Living around the Lake with the record low temperatures we’ve experienced lately makes it important to review how to survive immersion in super-cold water.  
During exercise and high temperatures, our body dissipates heat by sweat and evaporation.  Similarly, when immersed in cold water, the body loses heat through the contact of water with the skin.  As surrounding water sucks heat away from the body, hypothermia (the lowering of the body’s core temperature) sets in, we become weak and lethargic, and we can quickly drown.
When the face is immersed in water that is seventy degrees Fahrenheit or less, the MDR (Mammalian Diving Reflex) kicks in.  So how does the MDR help us survive? The body automatically slows down our respiration and heartbeat to where they are nearly undetectable, constricts the muscles in our extremities, and directs oxygen laden blood to our brain and critical organs. This is more pronounced in infants and children, where there have been cases of resuscitations after forty minutes of submersion. In adults, survival for twenty five minutes is possible.
As a result, lifeguards and EMTs go by the axiom, “You are not dead until you are warm and dead”.  The MDR reverses quickly so it’s imperative that CPR is administered immediately and the patient is quickly transported to advanced medical care.  The old assertion that brain death occurs four to six minutes after one stops breathing isn’t always applicable in these cases.
What else can you do if you find yourself unceremoniously dunked in water below seventy degrees? First and foremost, you should ALWAYS wear a personal flotation device (lifejacket) around the water, on your dock, and in your boat—but especially in cold weather. “But I’m a great swimmer”, you say.  Slip on a slick spot and hit your head, perhaps? Even Olympic caliber athletes can’t swim when they are dazed or unconscious.
Have you ever tried to swim in clothes, much less winter coats and boots? It’s nearly impossible without flotation assistance. As a point of information, the side stroke, breast stroke or elementary back stroke, all with underwater recoveries (arms remain in the water), are the best strokes to use when swimming in clothes. Getting survival training that teaches how to inflate clothes for flotation is also a good idea.
In cold water, keep your head above the surface.  As mentioned in a previous Water Safety Notes, more heat is lost through the head than any other part of the body.  If you can’t swim to safety, assume the American Red Cross HELP position: knees to the chest, keeping body as compact as possible to retain heat. With more than one person in the water, an ARC HUDDLE position (side by side with arms around one another’s waists, as in a football huddle) with knees held close to chests will help retain heat.    
Other hypothermia tips: Warm the torso and head first with clothes and blankets. Warming hands and feet next to a fire may feel good, but it forces the coldest blood in your body to your core and may reduce your temperature even more.  If you feel you have frost nip (cold, painful red skin on your extremities), warm gradually. If you feel you have frost bite (pail, no pain, frozen opaque skin), take care not to rub and create more tissue damage (there are ice crystals there).  Instead, warm to the frost nip level (pain and red skin) and place pads between affected toes and fingers.

Last things: Always keep an updated first aid kit with a survival space blanket available. Take an ARC first aid course for yourself and your loved ones. There is plenty of winter fun to be had at Smith Mountain Lake; a bit of forethought and planning will keep you safe and enjoying your surroundings.

Comfortable, Secure and Cool
Randy Stow
SML Water Safety Council

What a great sense of freedom we get from being on the water. In most cases it seems that the destination is secondary,.. it's all about the journey. Ah, the motion, the breeze, the sun, the friends aboard.  We see no hazards so no need to wear a life jacket.  Oops, that's where we go wrong.

The U.S.Coast Guard reports: “One-half of all recreational boating fatalities happen in calm water.  These fatalities occur close to shore and are caused by drowning. Also, in most cases, life jackets are stowed on board, but not worn. And all are unexpected.” 1 When boating accidents happen, they happen suddenly and there's no time to put on a life jacket.  It's like putting on a seat belt after your car starts to skid towards a tree.

But today there are some great options with inflatable life jackets that remove many for our objections to wearing one.  These jackets are compact, don't restrict  movement, comfortable, and they look cool. So let's look at what they are all about and what options we have.  We can choose from manual inflation, automatic inflation, hybrids and belt pack types. We'll look at each but there are some features that they all have in common.  When worn they are deflated and contained in protective cases until flotation is required. They all have a gas cylinder that will inflate the air bladder when needed.  Each has a “pull cord” that can be used to activate the gas cylinder. There's a oral inflater tube that can be used to blow additional air into the bladder if needed.  After use they can be deflated and a rearming kit can be installed to make the jacket ready for its next use.

Auto Inflatable:  This type will inflate immediately if immersed in water.  This is important if the wearer is unconscious or incapacitated in the water. It also has a pull cord for manual activation as a back-up. There are two types of auto inflatables distinguished in the way the auto feature is activated. There are the “Bobbin” and “Hydrostatic” types.
Bobbin Style Auto Inflatable: The inflator mechanism has a bobbin that dissolves very rapidly when immersed in water and releases a spring driven pin that opens the gas cylinder.  This is a good system and inflates quickly and reliably. While these jackets will generally resist a little splashing and light rain, if the bobbin gets wet, it will self inflate without being immersed.  When using this style jacket, it's a good idea to keep it dry and change into a conventional vest if weather turns foul.
Hydrostatic Style Auto Inflatable: The inflator mechanism works off water pressure sensing even a couple of inches of immersion. This style of jacket can be worn in wet conditions without inadvertent inflation. It's a really good idea but comes at a cost.  Prices on these types are generally more than twice that of the bobbin styles.

Manual Inflatable:  This type looks the same as the auto-inflation styles.  These will only inflate by using the pull cord.  This has the advantage of not being sensitive to wet conditions.  Sailors who are consistently wet may prefer this type.  The obvious disadvantage is that if the wearer is not conscious or capable in the water, the jacket will not inflate and will not provide any flotation.

Belt Pack Inflatable: These are generally manually activated but there are some with auto-inflation.  They are very comfortable since they are contained in a belt pack worn around the waist.  But they require the most assistance from the user.  Since most are manual, they require the use of the pull cord for activation.  Since they are worn around the waist, the bladder will inflate forward of the user and will then need to be pulled over the head to assist the wearer to remain face up.  Swimming skills are highly desirable for use of this style.

Hybrid Inflatable:  These are specialty models that have some inherent flotation and are augmented with smaller inflatable bladders.  They look more like conventional PFD vests but are cut to be less restrictive and are popular for some paddle sports like Kayaking. These are not a good recommendation for general pleasure boat activities. 

So with all the advantages of the inflatables, what else should we consider:

  • They should be inspected as per their user manuals to insure the inflator mechanism is armed and the air bladder in good condition
  • Read the USCG approval labels to understand ratings and approved uses of the PFD.
  • The user should be familiar with their operation.
  • They are not approved for users less than 16 years old
  • They are not recommended for swift water sports (white water) or any activity where the user will likey wind up in the water.
  • They are not approved for water skiing or PWCs.
  • They provide no protection from hypothermia
  • MUST be worn as the outer most layer. Never wear rain gear or a coat over these vests.
  • Read and follow the user's manual.

So there's the scoop on inflatable lifejackets.  They are my choice for general boating and I'll wear mine every time.  Whatever your preferred lifejacket is, the key safety precaution is to wear it.



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