I-Team: More than half of drowning victims this summer were not wearing life jackets

CHATHAM COUNTY, NC (WTVD) -- As families embark on a final summer adventure this Labor Day Weekend, local and state officials are urging anyone visiting an area waterway to follow the laws and avoid a tragedy.

Specifically, officers with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission told ABC11 that they are concerned about reckless boating and people not wearing life jackets.

"A lot of times, this stuff is obvious," Master Officer Claude Smith told the I-Team. "Sometimes, you got to look for it a little bit. The main thing is we just want people to be safe. There's nothing that happens out here as far as accidents go that is necessary."

Statewide, officials report 22 drowning victims this summer, and 15 of them were not wearing life jackets.

"You can be a great swimmer in a swimming pool all day long, but when you get out on the lake there are a whole lot of different elements," Smith explained. "There could be a wake that comes over you, you could be struck by a vessel or hit your head and knocked unconscious."

The Wildlife Commission offered ABC11 full access to their patrols on Jordan Lake, one of the Triangle's most popular summer hot spots.

Smith's team is small - one boat and four officers - but they are quite effective: more than 200 tickets and warnings issued since Memorial Day, plus eight boaters arrested for operating while intoxicated.

North Carolina law requires children younger than 13 years of age to wear an appropriate life vest whenever they are on a boat, including for fishing, tubing and general recreation. Smith said when choosing a life vest for a child, always check for a U.S. Coast Guard approved label. The life vest must be a proper fit, with youth sizes corresponding to weight ranges.

For anyone older than 13, there must be a life jacket on board within reach for that individual. All individuals, regardless of age, must wear a life jacket on Personal Water Crafts (PWC), such as Jetski or Wave Runner.

For more information on life vest requirements or how to enroll in a free boating education course, click here or call (919) 707-0031.
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