Corps to test mandatory life jacket program

Published 12:11 am Friday, March 20, 2009

Four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Vicksburg District lakes in north Mississippi will participate in a three-year mandatory lifejacket test program beginning May 22.

The lakes are Sardis, Arkabutla, Enid and Grenada.

The program will require the use of life jackets to a greater degree than existing regulations.

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Corps officials say the program will determine whether the additional life jacket requirements will improve wear rates among boaters and decrease water-related fatalities.

“Basically, if you are swimming or trolling in a boat under 16-feet long, then you must wear your life jacket,” said Bill Latham, interpretative outreach services manager at Sardis Lake.

“Once you get to your fishing spot and you’re just going to stay there, you don’t have to have the jacket on. Just when you go from point A to point B,” he said.

National data shows water fatalities most often occur in accidents involving small vessels and swimmers in non-designated swim areas.

The requirements are that everyone must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times:

— While swimming outside designated swimming areas. Waivers may be issued by park managers to exempt participants of special events, such as triathlons, from this requirement while participating in the event.

— While skiing or being pulled by a vessel, regardless of vessel length.

— On powered vessels 16 feet in length to 26 feet in length whenever under power by the main propulsion unit. This does not include when the vessel is powered by a trolling motor or is stationary.

— On powered vessels less than 16 feet in length or on non-powered vessels, regardless of length. Non-powered vessels include, but are not limited to canoes, kayaks, flat bottoms/johnboats, sailboats and paddleboats.

Latham said most drowning deaths at Sardis — 160 since 1940 — have been swimmers, with 92 percent not wearing life jackets.

“We’re not looking at this to be a big ticket thing,” Latham said. “We’re looking for compliance. We know it’s uncomfortable, especially on hot summer days, but it could save lives. That’s why we’re doing this study.”

Wayne Stogsdill, the Mississippi Project Operations Manager, said flyers are being distributed to boaters and campers to make them aware of the program.