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Summer is almost upon us, and that means long days spent on the lake or at the marina, enjoying the water while spending time with friends and family. The season is supposed to be one of carefree fun – but even in a placid setting like a lake, tragedy can strike.

This past April, a high school student named Carmen Johnson drowned in Smith Lake while swimming with her friends and family off a boat dock. Authorities with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency suspect that electricity running through the dock may have been involved and could have caused Carmen to drown – while also causing injury to another swimmer that resulted in a visit to a nearby medical center.

This is not the first time a boat dock has been suspected in causing injury or death in Alabama. Seven years ago, in Cullman County, five people were seriously injured when a faulty lighting system on a boat dock electrocuted them.

The danger is clear: boat docks can pose a risk – which means you and your family must be extra vigilant this summer.

Lack of Regulations Poses a Risk

What makes the danger even greater is the fact that boat docks are largely unregulated across the state. Counties aren’t required to regulate electrical work on docks, which aren’t inspected. The dock at Smith Lake that could’ve caused Carmen’s death was under no regulations, as was the dock in Cullman County.

It’s clear that boat docks can put a family in danger if they are unaware of the situation while using the dock. Throw in the additional dangers of drowning due to swimming accidents – 10 people drowned from June 2015 to mid-August 2015 in what one trooper called the worst summer for drownings in years – and it’s easy to see the risk.

Avoiding Tragedy This Summer

To keep you and your family safe, it’s important to be vigilant and cautious. To mitigate risk:

  • Inspect the boat dock’s electrical wiring for any signs of frayed wires or missing connections.
  • Have a trained electrician inspect the dock if it’s on your private property
  • Be vigilant when family members are swimming in and around the dock
  • Don’t allow swimmers to dive head-first into the water from the dock
  • Ensure all underage people on the dock wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices
  • Make sure at least one person is certified in first aid (go here to look up Red Cross courses in your area)

Of course, obey all safety regulations when out on the open water in any watercraft.

The best way to mitigate the chances of an accident is to be mindful of your surroundings and carefully watch out for any potential dangers that may lurk in and around our favorite summer destinations. With the right preparation and vigilance, the summer can be filled with fun for everyone – instead of tragedy.