Lake Pleasant, which is close to the Phoenix metropolitan area, has seen 6 deaths in 6 weeks as of May 31, 2022.
Five of those deaths could have been prevented had they been wearing a life jacket. Saguaro Lake had a drowning on May 29th, again it was a swimmer that wasn’t wearing a life jacket. One of the deaths at Lake Pleasant was a boating accident in which a 23 year old young lady’s leg was torn off by propellers when she jumped off the back of the boat.
These statistics are in line with national averages from the United States Coast Guard. 86% of the drowning victims were not wearing a life jackets. In Arizona, six deaths out of the seven in 6 weeks were preventable. An interesting fact to come out of these tragedies is: out of 6 drownings 4 were males under the age of 25.
The death of the of the lady at Lake Pleasant by a propeller and a subsequent death of a 7 year old girl on the river at Parker AZ, (the 7 year old was run over by a drunk boater), brings up the subject of why Arizona doesn’t have mandatory boat operator licenses. Arizona is one of five states who do not require one. Don McDowell is committed along with the local Coast Guard Auxiliary to bringing forth legislation to correct this.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary along with Arizona Game and Fish regularly do life jacket exchanges as well as keeping the Life Jacket Loaner stations at most of the major lakes stocked with various sized life jackets. The Ryan Thomas Foundation partnered with the AZGFD to establish the life-saving life jacket loaner stations. Ryan was an experienced swimmer and boater and yet he drowned just 20 feet from the boat dock. The AZGFD also has a campaign “Wear it Arizona”.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary also patrols local lakes. Some of the things they do are:
- Help vessels that are disabled and need a tow.
- Help to educate people that may be doing things that are against the law, and
- Participate in search and rescue.
The Extent to Save Lives
On May 27th, 2020, while out on a patrol, a swimmer was spotted a long distance from shore. When pulling up to the swimmer we could see he was in his early 20s and not wearing a life jacket nor did he have anything that could float with him. We asked what he was doing. He replied that he was going to swim across the lake because he thought his friends might be on the other side. That part of the lake is a mile wide. When he was informed of this, he stated he could make it across. We offered him a life jacket and he said he didn’t need it. We then told him that he needed to go back to shore and offered him a ride. He said no to the ride and was arguing that he could make it across. We finally got him to turn back to shore. It took quite a long time for him to get back and we had to escort him. All along the way we were prepared for the worst-he was really struggling to get back. Numerous times we offered a life jacket and a ride which he declined. Other than drowning, another hazard for him was visibility. The water at this lake is brownish, his head was tan and brownish. If a vessel was under way at even a slower speed his head may not have been visible. Along with the possibility of him drowning, there was a high probability of him being run over by a boat. To quote Don, “you can’t fix stupid”. In the four days of patrol by the Auxiliary many dangerous situations were seen at this lake every day, multiple times a day.
The need for mandatory boater education is critical in this state. Statistics overwhelmingly prove this. It’s far too easy for an inexperienced person to buy a watercraft and go to a lake not knowing any of the rules and regulations as well as safety measures.
Most new boaters don’t:
- Have basic knowledge of traffic patterns on the water
- How to safely operate the vessel and
- Where they are on the lake in case they have to call in an emergency.
If you have a boat or any type of watercraft, go online and take a boating class. There are free classes. It’s a really easy thing to do to protect yourself as well as your loved ones.