Lake Wylie law enforcement officers want to begin a student-to-student awareness campaign that puts more people in life jackets while boating.
“We want to get (people) on the water to use their life vests while underway, and do it automatically,” said Sgt. Wayne Richardson, lake enforcement officer with the York County Sheriff’s Office.
The Lake Wylie Marine Commission partnered with the Sheriff’s Office and Clover High School for the inaugural campaign. A video production class at the school also worked on a public service announcement. About 50 students donned life jackets May 14 at the school.
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Freshmen Jacqueline Alcala, Chandler Huskey and Morgan Cohan say they boat or kayak often, and don’t mind putting on a life jacket.
“My parents stress it out pretty well, keeping a life jacket on,” Huskey said. “It may not be the stylish thing, I guess, but if something were to happen – it could happen at any minute – you want to be safe. You don’t know what could happen.”
Alcala, who mainly kayaks, said wearing a life vest is the smart play.
“Things happen, whether you want them to or not, so you have to be safe,” she said.
Next year, other high schools in York County will compete with Clover to create the best service announcement and gather the most students in life jackets.
“We’re going to introduce it to every high school next August, so at the end of the year they’ll have a contest,” Richardson said. “There’s going to be a trophy.”
The nine-member marine commission tabbed Blanche Bryant, one of three commissioners representing York County, to lead the latest awareness effort. Bryant wants life jacket use to become as automatic for children as seat belt use is in cars. She saw Clover High as a great place to start.
“This is the first time it’s ever been done, and we hope it’ll be done for many years to come,” she said.
Richardson said he and fellow officers hear resistance to wearinglife jackets.
Some people say they are good swimmers and don’t need it. But Richardson said a boat wreck could easily incapacitate or injure even the best swimmer.
Others say they would never end up in a wreck. There were no fatalities in York County on Lake Wylie last year, but there were a couple of wrecks. The majority of drowning victims in boat wrecks were not wearing life jackets, Richardson said.
In South Carolina, passengers younger than 12 must wear a life jacket while on a boat 16 feet or shorter. On larger boats, they aren’t required. Life jackets are required for personal watercraft operators. Kayakers and canoers must have a fitting life jacket per person on board, or on the paddler.
John Marks • 803-831-8166