WESTFIELD/SOUTHWICK – As summer comes into full swing and the first heat waves are upon us, state and local officials are reminding members of the public to practice safe habits while boating and enjoying local lakes and ponds.
“As summer approaches and more residents take advantage of opportunities for outdoor recreation, it is critically important that boaters are mindful to practice safety first and always wear a life jacket to prevent tragic accidents,” said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “We urge the public to keep yourselves and your families safe by wearing a PFD and always operating boats at a safe speed.”
Westfield’s Hampton Ponds and Southwick’s Congamond Lake are each of their respective municipality’s major public bodies of water. While Hampton Ponds has had few deadly accidents, Lake Congamond has already had two this year. On June 12, a man was found unresponsive after having drowned accidentally in Lake Congamond an on May 6 police pulled a man’s body from the water after a kayak had been found empty and drifting the day before.
Hampton Ponds Association Liaison to the Westfield Police Department Chris Padden said that the ponds has had just one incident in the last five years. An older couple had gone into the water to get their dog and tragically they did not make it. She said she thinks it is easier for accidents to happen in Congamond Lake because of its size and the amount of visitorsfeatured.
Padden said that for those who are new to boating on a lake and want to find out how to be as safe as possible, they should attend a boating safety course through the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
While the Massachusetts Environmental Police are stretched relatively thin in the area, The Westfield Police Department Marine Patrol Unit is typically able to cover the pond themselves since the city took jurisdiction of the ponds in 2013. They will be returning to cover the pond on July 4 as the state’s reopening process continues.
“We do have some recklessness right now, but the neighbors on the pond are usually able to politely take care of it and tell people to stop,” said Padden.
Padden said that about 80 neighbors are part of the Hampton Pond Neighborhood Improvement Project, which includes a neighborhood watch for the area around the pond.
The main way that state officials recommend one remain safe on the lakes is to always wear a lifejacket when boating, canoeing, or kayaking.
“Boaters and paddlers in the Northeast have an incredible network of inland and coastal waters available for their use, but things can and do go wrong in a heartbeat,” said Walt Taylor, Recreational Boating Specialist for the First Coast Guard District. “In the Northeast, over 73% of our recreational boating and paddling fatalities are the direct result of capsizing or falling overboard and, of these fatalities, about 77% were not wearing a life jacket. Bottom line, bring and wear your life jacket – life jackets save lives – when you need your life jacket, you need it on.”