This Memorial Day weekend, many families may choose to spend time around swimming pools, lakes and rivers. Before heading out for some water-based recreation, Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services wanted to remind the public ways they can stay safe and do their part to prevent accidents.

Boating, kayaking and fishing are popular sports in Georgia, especially in Cherokee County. While COVID-19 is keeping some people in, the county’s lakes and rivers are seeing an early increase in public use. The fire department’s water rescue teams are also seeing an increase in responses.

Located partially in the southwestern portion of Cherokee County, Lake Allatoona is one of the most popular lakes in the United States. Because of this, Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services has several water rescue units around the lake, ready to respond to emergency calls when needed. The department is currently equipped with the latest protective equipment and tools, a dive rescue truck and three rescue boats, while the agency’s dive team is staffed with both full-time and volunteer rescuers. This year, the dive team has already been dispatched several times across the county to lakes and the Etowah River for accidents and calls for help. Because of this, the fire department has the following safety tips, so those taking to the water will have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.

1. Know your limits and wear your Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life jacket while on the water.

2. Swimming in open water (lakes, rivers, ponds and the ocean) is harder than swimming in a pool. Even though it may be hot outside, the water can still be very cold. So, when you jump in, the cold water can take your breath away, and without a PFD/life jacket, you may find yourself struggling to stay afloat. In situations like this, people can tire faster and get into trouble more quickly, and when a person goes under the water in a murky lake, it can make it difficult for divers to locate the victim, who could also be swept away by the currents. Please avoid swimming in rivers without a PFD, because many good swimmers have gotten into trouble or drowned in currents that didn’t seem to be moving that fast.

3. Watch your family and children when visiting public beaches at the lake. No beaches in Cherokee County have lifeguards. Watch family members and bystanders closely, because drowning is silent and it happens quickly.

4. Do not swim alone, even if you think you are a strong swimmer. Be cautious of sudden drop-offs in lakes and rivers. People who can’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers have slipped into deeper water and drowned.

5. When boating, wear a life jacket that fits and don’t overload the boat. Many people have drowned when they fell overboard while fishing, hunting or kayaking.

6. Stay sober when on or in the water. Getting drunk or using illegal drugs, then wading into neck-deep water is a really bad idea, as reaction times and balance can be seriously thrown off. Operating a boat while drunk is as dangerous as drunk driving, and it leads to many deaths and preventable accidents every year.

7. Wear a life jacket that fits. Even the best water enthusiasts can misjudge changing water conditions when boating or swimming in open water. Be prepared at all times by wearing a life jacket — you’ll never know when you may be tossed into the water.

8. Be sure your children wear a life jacket that fits them and watch them closely around water because they can go under the water quickly and quietly.

In addition to this, a number of water safety laws have been passed to improve the use of life jackets and prevent drowning. These include requiring children 12 years old and under to wear a life jacket that fits them at all times when on a boat in Georgia, as well as all recreational boats being required to carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard.

Be prepared by making a float plan and let family members know about it too. Check river or stream conditions by contacting the United States Geological Survey or river guides online. Know where you are at all times on the rivers by using an app like the USNG, Find Me SAR or Advensa to pinpoint your location by GPS, all three of which are free to use.

Take life jackets, a rescue device, a cell phone and someone who knows CPR when you are out on the water. Boaters should obtain their Boater Education Card and plenty of safety training, even if they have boated for years. Parents should tell their children about the dangers of open water at rivers, lakes and beaches. Know where your child is, who they are with and when they are expected home. Parents are powerful role models—if you wear a life jacket, it’s more likely your children will too. Learn more about water safety and drowning prevention from the Safe Kids Cherokee County website at www.safekidscherokee.org. Additional information can be obtained from the American Red Cross or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at www.pleasewearit.com.

Prevention and planning is the key to having a safe day on the water. Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services wishes everyone a happy Memorial Day weekend, but encourages everyone to stay safe.

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