York County water safety expert gives tips on how boaters can stay safe on the lake
As temperatures climb, some York County residents and visitors escape to the water.
But more people on the river may mean more water rescues, Rock Hill Fire Department Capt. Jason Dillon said.
He said in 2018 the department recorded its highest number of water rescue calls since the start of the swift water rescue program.
That number of rescues is still in the teens – about 16 or 18 calls – Dillon said, but that number has grown each year.
And the fire department isn’t called for every rescue, he said.
“The big thing is having a personal floatation device,” he said. “Rescues happen every day on the river. Being rescued by people in your group or people near the water happens all the time.”
Rock Hill Fire trained more of the department in swift water rescue on the Catawba River May 28-30. More than half of the department is now certified in water rescue, he said.
But it’s important for water-enthusiasts to be aware of their surroundings and best practices on rivers and lakes, he said.
Here’s what York County water safety experts want you to know.
Wear a personal floatation device
All people on a boat must have a personal floatation device readily available, according to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Children under the age 12 and under must be wearing their life jackets at all times, according to S.C. DNR.
Sgt. Brent Mabry with the York County Sheriff’s Office lake enforcement and dive team said having a personal floatation device is key.
“Obviously we would love to see them wearing it, like we wear ours every time we’re on a water craft, but obviously that’s not going to happen,” Mabry said.
Regardless, the personal floatation device should be close by, he said.
“Everyone on board a boat should have a properly fitting life jacket available to them and it needs to be readily accessible,” Mabry said. “By readily accessible, I mean not brand new and in a plastic bag. It needs to be where they can get to it quick.”
Make a float plan
Mabry said boaters should have a “float plan” – make sure a family member or person on land knows where you are going and for how long.
“In case they are late getting back, we can get a heads up,” he said.
Dillon said it’s important to have a way to communicate with someone on land too.
“Someone who’s able to help monitor if you’re staying on your timeline, if there’s a problem or not.”
Mabry said though some people on boats consume alcohol, boat operators should always avoid alcohol.
He said alcohol consumption tends to be a bigger problem on the Catawba River than on Lake Wylie.
“We’ve got so many law enforcement on Lake Wylie,” he said.
But on the river, tubers sometimes overdo it on alcohol consumption, Mabry said.
“For some reason, some people get out there and they need to see how much alcohol they can consume,” he said. “They’re not driving a boat, they’re floating down the river and they don’t realize or don’t care how much alcohol they’re consuming. They can get in trouble real quick down there.”
People on the water need to keep calm in an emergency, he said, and drinking alcohol doesn’t help.
“It’s not going to hurt you to go a couple of hours without drinking alcohol,” Mabry said.
Know your surroundings
Dillon said many water rescue calls come when people miss their take out point on the river.
Many tubers or kayakers in York County get out of the river at the River Park access point. If they miss that spot, the next public access point is 7.6 miles further down the river, according to Go Paddle SC – at the Catawba Nation Hand Carry Boat Launch.
Dillon said water-goers should monitor river conditions too. Local kayak rental company Rockin River Adventures, though closed for the 2019 season, suggests the ideal river flow level for kayakers on the Catawba would be between 3,000 and 3,600 cubic feet per second.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the most recent data for June 3 for the Catawba River near Rock Hill shows the river is flowing at 2,680 cubic feet per second.
Mabry said people heading to the water should download local weather apps with lightning alerts.
“I teach the S.C. DNR boat safety classes and I strongly suggest everyone in those classes have a local weather station app on their phone that gives lightning alerts and so forth,” he said. “In case you’re out on the water and a storm brews up out there, they really can’t see it coming.”