WAYNESVILLE, Ohio — With four apparent drowning deaths in Southwest Ohio in a span of three days, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is urging people to use caution when visiting the state’s waterways.

What You Need To Know

  • ODNR Lt. Shannon Hoffer explained safety tips to help keep beachgoers and boaters at Caesar Creek State Park safe

  • One of the most important tips while boating is always wear a life jacket

  • Hoffer explained the dangers of drinking alcohol and boating, which is illegal in Ohio

As people hit the waterways to cool off and spend time outdoors, safety should always be the top priority.

For beachgoing mother Mary Poirier, that’s the first thing she thinks about before taking her one- year-old-son Atticus to the beach.

“Yes, the water and then the sun,” she said.

She makes sure that Atticus has all the protective gear to be safe, and never lets him out of her sight.

But swimming is just one water activity that people are eager to do as coronavirus restrictions are lifted and summer inches closer.

ODNR Parks and Watercraft Lieutenant Shannon Hoffer said people need to be prepared for all water activities, and that starts with understanding the body of water you are entering.

“You may be the best swimmer in a swimming pool, but lake water, river water, even creek water or streams, it’s a little bit different,” Hoffer said.

He said one of the top ways to stay safe is to never swim alone.

“Watch everyone around you,” he said. “Have a buddy system. Swim with buddies, make sure there’s people around.”

Hoffer said it’s very important to keep a close eye on small children, even if they aren’t your kids.

“We want everyone to enjoy themselves, but we want them to be safe when you’re out here,” Hoffer said.

He said it’s important stay aware of your location — for example, tracking the numbers on the signs along the beach — in case there is an emergency.

And as for boating or watercraft activities, there is nothing more important than wearing a life jacket.

“If you’re going to be out kayaking or power boating, canoeing, at Caesar Creek State Park or any of our park lakes, rivers or streams, wear your life jackets,” Hoffer said.

He implores that it’s not worth coming out without the proper safety equipment and there is nothing more valuable than a life jacket.

“You wouldn’t go repelling without a rope, so you shouldn’t be boating without a life jacket.”

Another very important factor to understand surrounds alcohol.

“A lot of people want to drink and boat at the same time and it just doesn’t mix,” Hoffer said.

Alcohol slows down your reflexes and reaction time, and in an emergency situation, that’s the last thing you need.

“That initial shock, that slowing down of your functions, not being able to swim as strong because you’re under the influence of alcohol— not a good combination when you’re getting in water, especially here at Caesar Creek where we have some water depths that are up to 40 feet.”

If you are caught boating under the influence at a state park, you will be cited.

“You cannot operate a vessel, a boat of any kind, in the state of Ohio while under the influence of alcohol,” Hoffer said.

Ultimately it’s up to individuals to take responsible actions while visiting state parks.

“We want you safe while you’re here,” he said. “And you have to help us do that.”

So follow the example of beachgoers like Mary and Atticus and stay safe this summer.

“It’s always better to be safer than sorry,” she said.

Here is the full list of safety tips from ODNR:

  • Wear a life jacket. Make sure everyone is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. New innovative styles provide mobility and flexibility during water activities.
  • Check equipment. Make sure you have and know how to use all the essential equipment.
  • Make a float plan. Let family and friends know where you’re going and when you will return.
  • Use an engine cutoff device. An engine cutoff device is a proven safety device to stop the boat’s engine should the operator unexpectedly fall overboard.
  • Watch the weather. Always check the forecast before departing on the water and frequently during your excursion.
  • Know what’s going on around you at all times. Nearly a quarter of all reported boating accidents in 2018 were caused by operator inattention or improper lookout.
  • Know where you’re going and travel at safe speeds. Familiarize yourself with local boating speed zones and always travel at a safe speed.
  • Never boat under the influence. A BUI is involved in one-third of all recreational boating fatalities.
  • Keep in touch. Cell phones, satellite phones, EPIRB or personal locator beacon, and VHF radios can all be important devices in an emergency.
  • Practice social distancing. Follow state and local guidance from public health officials. See tips for social distancing and boating.