Maricopa County leaders, agencies come together to reduce lake drownings

May 17, 2024, 4:35 AM

PHOENIX — Maricopa County leaders from several departments and agencies want Arizonans to stay safe as they celebrate Memorial Day weekend.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department and Arizona Game and Fish all shared safety tips for people who want to celebrate with in the water.

Nine people drowned in Lake Pleasant last year, according to County Supervisor Thomas Galvin.

“Also of concern to me was a 50% increase in search and rescue operations by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” he added.

Search and rescue operations describe situations in which authorities try to rescue someone whose life isn’t in danger. They can range from check-ins at shore to searches for people who have gone missing.

In contrast, fatal situations are designated as “search and recovery” efforts.

Memorial Day weekend safety tips Arizonans should follow

Galvin shared these safety tips for people who want to celebrate on Arizona’s many bodies of water:

  1. Keep constant watch of children near water
  2. When exiting the water do a headcount to make sure no one is left behind
  3. Do not operate a boat while drinking alcohol
  4. Generally, limit alcohol use when recreating

Arizona authorities often patrol bodies of water to look out for people in need of help.

One of them is MCSO Deputy Brice Allmon, who spends much of his time on a patrol boat.

On his slow days, Allmon helps people stranded on cheap innertubes who get blown away by the wind.

However, once temperatures rise and holidays come around, the lake gets busier.

For Memorial Day weekend, MCSO lake patrol will likely have two boats at Lake Pleasant and will be working from the shoreline.

“We may see a violation and when the boat or the jet ski comes back to shore we do our education, or similar to what we do out here, we do a boat stop,” Allmon said.

His top safety tip: Always wear a life jacker when on the water.

Why Arizona authorities say life jackets are life savers

The top advice from county leaders is to always, yes always, wear a life jacket in the water. That’s important even if you are a strong swimmer, especially because factors like high winds can throw pool-swimmers off and turn a fun splash into a struggle for life.

“When they come out here, they go, ‘I can swim from this part of the lake to that part.’ That’s just not the case,” Deputy Allmon added.

That’s why it’s key to wear a lifejacket when recreating at lakes, especially one like Lake Pleasant that MCSO Sheriff Russ Skinner describes as “deep” and “murky.”

Life jacket exchanges can reduce drownings in Arizona, officials say

In fact, life jackets are so important that those who visit Lake Pleasant this Saturday can exchange their old life jackets for new ones.

This life jacket loaner program began in 2015 to reduce drownings. The program can promote Memorial Day weekend safety — along with safety throughout the rest of the year.

Josh Hoffman, a boating safety education program coordinator with AZFGD, said 11 similar events will take place at other bodies of water this Saturday.

“You can bring in an incorrectly sized life jacket or one that might not do its job anymore and get a brand-new ski-vest type life jacket,” Hoffman said.

Visitors must exchange a “ski-vest” type jacket, which goes around the torso, as opposed to life jackets, which go around the neck.

Over the summer, there will be a total of 19 life jacket loaner programs in Arizona, Hoffman added.

Memorial Day weekend safety tips apply to summer as well

High wind is another risk Arizonans should watch out for when visiting bodies of water.

R.J. Cardin, the director of park visitor safety at Maricopa County’s regional parks, says it’s been a factor in past incidents.

To combat this, the county has installed three strobe light towers in lake islands. They’ve also installed digital messaging boards at boat ramps. These boards will flash and indicate when wind speeds exceed 20 miles per hour.

What if you’re on the water and those alerts go off?

“Find a cove to hide out in and load your boat after that,” Cardin said.

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Maricopa County leaders, agencies come together to reduce lake drownings