In the heart of Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks is the Midwest’s premier lake resort destination offering world-class swimming, floating, and boating. While Missouri’s waterways are a great place to create lasting memories filled with fun and adventure, a wonderful lake day could quickly turn dangerous if safety isn’t top of mind. Unfortunate incidents happen every year, many of which are avoidable — so no matter how much experience you have, it’s important to understand and follow these safety tips for boating, swimming, and floating on the lake.
1. Wear a Life Jacket
Accidents on the water can be unpredictable; that is why it’s a good idea to have a life jacket with/near you while boating. You should wear one when swimming and engaging in any water sport, regardless of the distance you’re traveling, the size of the boat/float, or your swimming ability. Even strong swimmers could end up in a dangerous situation. Life jackets do more than keep you afloat — many are designed to turn an unconscious person face-up and even help prevent hypothermia.
By law, all boats must have enough U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for every person on board, and all children 12 years old and under must wear one at all times while on the water. Do not use air-filled or foam floats, such as water wings, noodles, or inner tubes, as a substitute for life jackets. These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe. There are many types of life jackets on the market, so be sure to purchase one that is appropriate for your on-water activity.
2. Don’t Forget the Essentials
Anything can happen on the water, so it’s best to be prepared with all the necessary gear. Some must-have items to keep on board include:
- Life jackets and wearable personal flotation devices (PFDs)
- Throwable personal flotation devices (cushions, ring buoys, etc.)
- Navigation lights and spare bulbs
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Fire extinguisher
- Non-perishable food
- Visual signaling devices (distress flags, bright sticks, flares, reflective tape, etc.)
- Sound signaling devices (whistles, a radio device, etc.)
- Extra rope
3. Take a Water Safety Course
Before leaving the dock, make sure you know the rules and your responsibilities. Whether you’re boating, jet skiing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, etc., having the whole gang take a water safety course can help ensure everyone in your party is trained to respond in an aquatic emergency. BoatUS Foundation offers free online boating safety courses for individual states and the U.S. Coast Guard also provides various boating safety courses. You may also want to consider learning CPR since it could take time for emergency services to arrive.
4. Drink Responsibly
Because alcohol consumption affects judgment, reaction time, vision, coordination, and comprehension, you should avoid drinking alcohol before and while swimming or boating, as well as when supervising children around water. Never operate a vessel if you’ve consumed alcohol. Drinking alcohol irresponsibly on the water can put you and others at greater risk of being involved in a boating accident, being injured, or drowning, so it’s best to designate a sober captain.
5. Know Missouri’s Navigation Light Requirements
State law requires navigation lights to be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or rain. The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel. Section 306.100 RSMo. provides the complete description of vessel navigation lights based on the vessel’s length. Generally speaking, boats are required to display an all-round white light, a red light on the port (left) side of the vessel, and a green light on the starboard (right) side.
6. Always Bring a Buddy
One of the essential rules of water safety is to never go out on the water by yourself. While alone time on the water may sound like a relaxing escape, it can be dangerous. Whether swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, or boating, having a friend with you can help ensure your safety in an emergency or injury. If you choose to go out on the water alone, tell people where you are going and when you expect to return.
7. Pay Close Attention
Being out on the water with friends and family can be a great bonding activity, but one can easily get distracted and forget to pay attention to the lake. Remember, you will need to make boating maneuvers early and deliberately, so it’s important to always look out for other watercraft and swimmers. One way to ensure your group is being safe and responsible is to assign someone to be the “spotter.” They can keep an eye on the water and alert the captain to any approaching hazards.
8. Know How to Swim
Missouri’s waterways can include currents, drop-offs, and floating debris, which makes swimming more challenging. Choose swimming areas carefully and swim only during low water conditions. If you or your children do not know how to swim or are not strong swimmers, consider enrolling in swimming classes before heading out on the water. While swimming lessons can help, you should still always keep a close eye on children near water. A child who unexpectedly falls into water may panic and forget the swimming skills they were taught. Additionally, be careful not to overestimate your swimming ability — swimming for an extended period of time can bring on exhaustion and put you in danger.
9. Know the Signs of Drowning
When many people imagine what it looks like for someone to drown, they picture the person thrashing around in the water. However, drowning will usually happen quickly and silently. Warning signs of a person drowning include:
- Silence (if the victim is hyperventilating or underwater, they won’t be able to scream for help)
- They are hyperventilating or gasping
- Their head is tilted back with their mouth open as they try to get air
- Their arms are moving downward as they attempt to push their body upwards on something that is not there
- They appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
- They are trying to roll over on their back
- They are trying to swim in a particular direction but not making progress
- They are vertical in the water and not using their legs
- Their head is low in the water with their mouth at water level
- Their eyes are glassy and empty, unable to focus, or closed
- Their hair is covering their forehead or eyes
10. Stay Hydrated
While a hot summer day sounds like a great lake day, it’s easy to become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, leg cramps, and dizziness, and severe dehydration can lead to unconsciousness. So be sure to drink water — even if you don’t feel thirsty.
11. Remember to Refuel
Swimming or navigating a canoe, kayak, or inner tube takes a lot of energy out of you! Be sure to pack snacks along with your water to help you refuel and stay energized. Some healthy snack options include:
- Protein bars
- Granola bars
- Fruit bars
- Dried fruit
- Nuts/Trail Mix
- Cereal treats
- PB&J sandwich
12. Check the Weather Forecast
If it’s a sunny day, protect yourself by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat, and take regular breaks in the shade. While the sun might be shining when you head out onto the water, if you’re familiar with Missouri weather, then you know it can quickly morph into an afternoon of thunderstorms. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes can be hazardous and even deadly to swimmers and boaters. Even if the forecast is clear, keep your eye on the skies. If thunderstorms appear to be developing, it is safest to head back to shore.
Boat Lifts in the Lake of the Ozarks and Camdenton, MO
Following these safety guidelines should create the best boating experience for yourself, your family, and your friends. When it’s time to head home after a great day on the water, protect your watercraft from the elements with a boat lift from Econo Lift.