Pacific Ocean Division News

Army Corps of Engineers warns most water-related accidents and fatalities occur in July

U.S. Army Corps Engineers
Published July 6, 2022
Updated: July 6, 2022
A boat pulls a tuber on a U.S Army Corps of Engineers lake.

A boat pulls a tuber on a U.S Army Corps of Engineers lake.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reminding the public that more water-related accidents and fatalities occur at its lakes and river projects in July than in any other month.

“July is the month when we normally see the most water-related accidents and fatalities so there is reason to be concerned,” said Pam Doty, USACE National Water Safety Program Manager. “We stress to the recreating public a number of things to be aware of while in, on, or near open water.”

“Park rangers and other staff at our lakes and river projects will be especially vigilant this time of year in looking for and cautioning the public about risky behaviors,” added Doty.

USACE wants you to be aware of these things while in, on, or near open water (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.):

· Most adults who drown in open water knew how to swim and exceeded or overestimated their swimming abilities. People normally learn to swim in a pool where they can easily reach the sides or push off the bottom when they need to take a break. There are no sides to grab onto in open water and the bottom can be several feet below you, which can make taking a break and relaxing hard to do unless you are wearing a life jacket.

· When swimming or wading along a shoreline there might be a deep drop-off just a few feet away. Drop-offs might be more than 100 feet deep at some lakes. Swimming in a protected area, such as a cove or around a boat, might seem safer, but even in those situations you can become exhausted. Boats tend to drift away and people misjudge distances like how far it is to the shoreline.

· Sometimes people who become exhausted while swimming or overestimate their swimming ability never learned proper swimming breath techniques. Holding your breath too long while swimming or over-breathing by taking several deep breaths in a row (hyperventilating) before a swim can cause shallow-water blackout. Shallow-water blackout causes people to faint or blackout in the water and drown. A simple description of what makes that happen is that it’s the result of low oxygen to your brain. Shallow-water blackout often happens to people who know how to swim well because they deny their body’s desire to inhale for too long. Once someone loses consciousness water enters the lungs, causing them to drown.

· Some adults are hesitant to tell their friends that they cannot swim well. In a pool they can get away with that mentality easier than they can in open water. In open water even strong swimmers can become exhausted and drown. Also, if you don’t often swim your swimming ability will decrease the older you get. Some people may know how to float, but they don’t think about survival floating when they panic. Wave action and currents also make it difficult to float in open water.

· Carbon monoxide poisoning is something to be aware of when boating and swimming or floating around boats. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. Sources of carbon monoxide on your boat may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. Knowing these signs and what to do to prevent them can help you stay alive. Install or use a properly maintained carbon monoxide detector on your boat. Turn off the boat’s engine and other carbon monoxide-producing equipment when anchored. Always maintain a fresh circulation of air through and around your boat. Avoid areas of your boat where exhaust fumes may be present. Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform. Be aware of back drafting or what is also called the station wagon effect while boating. This is when the wind is coming from the rear of your boat and can increase the buildup of carbon monoxide on board. It’s best to run your boat so prevailing winds will help dissipate exhaust fumes.

· Wearing a life jacket can significantly increase your chances of survival, so when in, on, or near open water please wear a life jacket that fits you properly and is designed for your water-related activity. Some people say that you cannot swim in a life jacket, but that is not true. The belt-style, inflatable life jacket that you manually inflate is ideal for swimmers in open water. All you have to do is wear it and, when you need it, pull the inflation cord, let it inflate, and put it over your head. An oral inflation tube is provided on all inflatable life jackets as a backup inflation device. Non- or weak swimmers and anyone under the age of 16 should not wear an inflatable life jacket. There are other styles of comfortable life jackets that they can wear including vest styles that come in many different sizes and colors.

· A lot of people who go boating never intend to enter the water so they don’t wear a life jacket, but an incident can quickly happen that causes you to fall or to be thrown out of your boat. If that happens you will not have enough time to grab a life jacket before you are in the water. Those with you might not have time to save you by reaching or throwing something that floats to you, and you will be placing their lives at risk. So please wear a life jacket while boating to help ensure you return home safely to enjoy boating another day.

For more water safety information visit and follow Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Remember, “Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns.”

USACE statistics indicate that in the past 10 years 88 percent of public recreation fatalities were male, 87 percent were 18 years old and older, and 89 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Most of the fatalities, 47 percent, occurred while swimming in areas not designated for swimming and swimming in association with boating, and 21 percent occurred from falls from boats, docks, and shorelines.

USACE is one of the nation’s leading federal providers of outdoor and water-based recreation, hosting millions of visits annually to its more than 400 lake and river projects. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the USACE-operated recreation areas are within 50 miles of metropolitan areas, offering diverse outdoor activities for all ages close to home. For more information on USACE recreation sites and activities, visit