The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 27, 2013

Rangers teach water safety to start summer

HINTON — It’s hard to imagine anyone reaching middle age without taking a boat ride.

Park rangers Rudy Paugh and Travis Daugherty encountered some 40-year-olds Sunday, inexperienced in the ways of streams.

Before taking them out for their maiden cruise across the 2,000-acre Bluestone Lake, the National Park Service rangers gave them a crash course in how to enjoy the water in a safe fashion.

The idea was to give water enthusiasts some valuable tips for keeping recreational jaunts in the streams and lakes safe.

“We’re trying to get the word out for people to wear their life jackets and be safe around the water here in the early part of the season, when it gets real busy,” Paugh explained. “We’re here to get them started right.”

Even if one eschews a vessel and merely stands on the bank of a river or lake, Paugh says it’s sound advice to wear a life jacket anyway.

“Most people don’t float,” he said. “And anyone going for a boat ride should have a life jacket on. You should get in that habit, just like putting your seatbelt on.”

West Virginia law says boaters need only to have them in their vessels, unless you’re under age 12, but Paugh and Daugherty say all would be better off putting the jackets on, since one never knows what trouble could develop.

“This is the third-largest lake in the state of West Virginia,” Daugherty said. “We see a lot of boating traffic here annually. You have all kinds of pleasure boats, canoes, kayaks. It’s a real active lake.”

Bluestone does impose some restrictions, such as the “no wake zone,” where a craft must tread slowly without leaving any kind of wake.

“Closer to the lake we have a ‘keep out zone,’ which is mainly for the suction on the dam,” Daugherty explained.

“It could actually pull a vessel into the dam, and we don’t want that to happen. Just upstream we’ve got an area called a ‘no ski zone.’ You’ll see three or four buoys up there. Basically, that’s an area we ask people not to ski or have any kind of towing situation. There are hazards up there. It’s really shallow.”

Paugh says he always straps on his life preserver, explaining, “You’ve got to set the right example.”

As part of the training exercise along the shoreline, Paugh and Daugherty, aided by fellow rangers, took participants out in a 75-horsepower pontoon boat for a cruise along the huge lake.

“We do this every year,” Paugh said. “It’s become an annual event.

“We wanted to do something at the start of the season. We have the ‘Safety on the Blue’ coming up the first week in August. We wanted something out early in the season when people start to get out on the water and have a good time. We like to have people enjoy the water, have fun, but respect that water.”

One key point pressed upon boaters is to avoid trying to make a one-on-one rescue if someone goes overboard, but instead throw out a life jacket or a throwbag, the rangers said.

“The first thing they’re going to do is grab you and they’re going to drag you under,” Paugh said.

Daugherty said it is also imperative that boats using outboard motors need to be equipped with fire extinguishers, because with an internal combustion engine, fire could be a problem when least expected.

“And make sure your life jacket fits,” Paugh said. “We see a lot of jackets that need to be thrown away.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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