Nine people have drowned since May in Oklahoma lakes maintained by the Tulsa District of the Army Corps of Engineers. None of the victims wore life jackets.
"It was varying circumstances, but it was all circumstances where the individuals were not wearing a life jacket when they went into the water," Tulsa District Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Sara Goodeyon said.
"A lot of people get in their cars and it's second nature to put on a seat belt. When people are in or near the water, it should become a habit to put on a personal flotation device," Goodeyon said.
Many lakes offer loaner life jackets. Canton, Copan, Council Grove, Eufaula, Fort Gibson, Hugo, Keystone, Oologah, Pine Creek, Robert S. Kerr, Sardis, Skiatook and Texoma participate in the loaner program offered by the Corps of Engineers.
"They literally are hanging on a board. All a visitor has to do is walk up to that board. We ask that when they return it, they hang it right back up on that board," Goodeyon said.
Five types of flotation devices are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Type 1 is the standard orange vest, designed to turn unconscious people face up even in rough waters. Types 2 and 3 are for water sports or calmer, shallow water. The remaining types of flotation devices are designed to be thrown or for other special use.
Goodeyon said state law requires a life jacket for each passenger and a throw device on a boat less than 26 feet long, and all children under 13 are required to wear life jackets when swimming or boating. Additionally, anyone riding a personal watercraft is required to wear a life jacket, as is anyone towed behind a boat. The fine and fees for violating the law total about $100, she said.
Edmond police enforce the state life jacket requirements at Arcadia Lake and write lots of tickets, police spokeswoman Glynda Chu said.
"We want people to know that it's serious out there, especially since the lake levels are up," Chu said. "There are signs everywhere."
Arcadia Lake does not have a loaner program but sells life jackets for children, youths and adults for $8 each.
Edmond's fine for violating the life jacket law is $119.
Life jacket requirements are the same at Lake Hefner because the city follows the state law, said LaTresa Wright, a police service technician at the lake. The law applies to sailboats as well as motorized boats and is enforced by Oklahoma City police, Wright said.
The life jacket should be fitted to the wearer, Goodeyon said.
"The life jacket should not come over the child's chin, because if they go in the water with it on, they obviously need their nose and mouth clear to be able to breathe," Goodeyon said.
Kent Dunlap, chief of natural resources for the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers, said lake visitors have gotten better about putting life jackets on their children.
"But with adults, since they don't have to wear the jacket, they may have jackets on board, but they may be stored underneath the seats where they are not easy to get to," Dunlap said.
Dunlap said, statistically speaking, the most frequent drowning victim is a man between the ages of 18 and 35.
"A majority of drownings occur because people end up in the water when they didn't expect it," Goodeyon said.
It is legal to operate a boat in Oklahoma and drink beer, Dunlap said.
"There is no open container law like in a vehicle, but there are laws against operating a vessel while impaired."