Be careful on the water

July 16, 2013 

When the sign says, “Ramp closed, rising water!” and a firefighter warns you that any kind of recreational activity on the lake is dangerous, take the hint.

Many area residents might have noticed that it has rained a lot recently. Rain gauges at the York County Airport show that rain levels for both the month of July and the year so far are well above average, and the forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the week.

That means that rivers and lakes throughout the region are swollen and that currents are likely to be much faster than usual. With deeper, faster water, the usual water activities can be hazardous.

Because of the risk, the state Department of Natural Resources has warned boaters and swimmers to be especially careful when using the state’s waterways. Officials recently put up warning signs and closed ramps at public access points to the Catawba River such as the Riverwalk community and River Park.

But some people just don’t get it. Rock Hill fire and rescue crews were dispatched when eight people in inner tubes launched from Riverwalk July 6.

They weren’t wearing lifejackets, and within minutes on the water, two of the tubers were “unaccounted for.” Fortunately, a local patrol spotted the group and helped them out of the water, and eventually all made it safely back to shore.

On the northern end of Lake Wylie July 4, emergency crews had to rescue 16 swimmers who were stranded on a sandbar. A fire boat on patrol found the 16 people in distress near a popular hang-out area as the waters became rough and the swimmers were unable to make it back to shore.

Charlotte firefighters patrolling the lake in a fire boat rescued eight people, and rescuers from three other agencies rescued the rest. None was wearing a lifejacket, but all 16 made it safely back to shore.

Thankfully, no one drowned in either situation, but the potential for tragedy was high.

We urge people to take the warnings seriously about water safety. While entry ramps have been reopened, rain still is swelling lakes and rivers.

Safety officials aren’t trying to spoil people’s fun. They’re trying to save their lives.

The conditions on lakes and rivers are likely to persist as long as the above-average rainfall continues. When warnings are in effect, please heed them and don’t become a statistic because of stupidity.

Area emergency crews have recently had to rescue two large groups of people from the lake. We hope others will put two and two together and listen to the advice of water safety officials.

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