Army Corps Urges Life Jackets and Water Safety Practices at Raystown Lake

Published July 22, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is urging Raystown Lake visitors to practice water safety when recreating near the water. This appeal comes as the Army Corps recently announced throughout the United States, more than 30 people lost their lives to drowning in June at lake and river projects managed by the Army Corps.

Approximately a million people visit Raystown every year to enjoy boating, swimming, fishing and other water related activities. While there were no drowning fatalities at Raystown in 2019, the lake already documented one drowning fatality earlier this year in March.

Studies have shown that adult males represent over 80 percent of the water related fatalities at Raystown, but are usually the last ones to wear a life jacket. The Army Corps reported that nearly all the June drowning victims across the country were adult males between the ages 18 and 85 and were not wearing a life jacket.

“Unfortunately we’ve already had one drowning at Raystown earlier this year and we want to do whatever we can to prevent more,” said Allen Gwinn, supervisory park ranger at Raystown Lake. “Spreading the water safety message will hopefully help.  At Raystown Lake, most water-related fatalities could have been prevented had the victim worn a lifejacket so we’re urging all visitors to think safety, bring their life jackets, and wear them when on the lake.”

USACE officials recommend people be aware of these safety concerns prior to swimming in open waters, whether at Raystown or elsewhere:

• The majority of adults who drown in open water knew how to swim and exceeded or overestimated their swimming abilities. Most people learn to swim in a pool where they can easily reach the sides or push off the bottom when they need to take a break. There are no sides to grab onto in open water and the bottom can be several feet below you, which can make taking a break and relaxing hard to do unless you are wearing a life jacket.

• When swimming or wading along a shoreline there might be a deep drop-off just a few feet away. Drop-offs might be more than 100 feet deep at some lakes. Swimming in a protected area, such as a cove or around a boat might seem safer, but even in those situations you can become exhausted. Boats tend to drift away and people misjudge distances like how far it is to the shoreline.

• Sometimes people who become exhausted while swimming or overestimate their swimming ability never learned proper breathing techniques for swimming. Holding your breath too long while swimming or over-breathing by taking several deep breaths in a row (hyperventilating) before a swim can cause shallow-water blackout. Shallow-water blackout causes people to faint or blackout in the water and drown. A simple description of what makes that happen is that it’s the result of low oxygen to your brain. Shallow-water blackout often happens to people who know how to swim well because they deny their body’s desire to inhale for too long. Once someone loses consciousness water enters the lungs, causing them to drown.

• Some adults are hesitant to tell their friends that they cannot swim very well. In a pool they can get away with that mentality easier than they can in open water. In open water even strong swimmers can become exhausted and drown. Also, if you don’t swim often your swimming ability will decrease the older you get. Some people may know how to float, but they don’t think about survival floating when they panic. Wave action and currents also make it difficult to float in open water.

• Carbon monoxide poisoning is another thing to be aware of when swimming or floating around boats. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. It is heavier than air and lighter than water, so it floats on the water’s surface and one breath if you’re in the water with it can be deadly. Sources of carbon monoxide on your boat may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. Knowing these signs and what to do to prevent them can help you stay alive. Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector on your boat. Turn off the boat’s engine and other carbon monoxide producing equipment when anchored. Maintain a fresh circulation of air through and around your boat at all times. Avoid areas of your boat where exhaust fumes may be present. Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform.

• Wearing a life jacket can increase your chances of survival drastically, so when swimming, wading, floating, or playing in open water please wear a life jacket that fits you properly. Some people say that you cannot swim in a life jacket, but that is not true. The belt-style, inflatable life jacket that you manually inflate is ideal for swimmers in open water. All you have to do is wear it and when you need it pull the inflation cord, let it inflate, and put it over your head. An oral inflation tube is provided on all inflatable life jackets as a backup inflation device. Non- or weak swimmers should not wear an inflatable life jacket. There are other styles of comfortable life jackets that they can wear including vest styles that come in many different sizes and colors.

For further information on water safety and drowning prevention, please visit Raystown’s Water Safety webpage and

For updates and reminders on water safety, follow Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Allen Gwinn, Park Ranger

Release no. 20-018