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Missouri Residents Get Ready For Water Season, Push For Boaters And Swimmers To Wear Lifejackets

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As the summer approaches, many Missourians are gearing up for a season of fun on the water. However, a major priority for many water safety advocates is the prevention of deaths this summer. KSMU’s Mike Donnelly reports.

Craig Keese lost his son, Brian Keese and his grandson Nathan, both of whom drowned on March 27, 2010 during a father-son fishing trip.

“I think the tragedy for me, in addition to our son and grandson, is the fact that in Springfield itself, within the last twelve months, there’s been seven people lost relative to the same issue,” Keese says.

Keese is involved with his group, The Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Organization, which has been key in getting a bill introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives. The bill would raise the age for wearing a required life jacket to 16. Right now, only kids ages six and under must wear life jackets on the water.

“I’ve spent the last year becoming a lot more educated. I was a neophyte, because it wasn’t something that was talked about; it wasn’t important. But as I began reading all about it and understanding it, I think it’s fairly plain as to the possible outcomes, and the risk involved,” Keese says.

Even though the bill has yet to be debated on the House floor, Missouri water safety officials say that they already recommend a life jacket for people older than the six. Sergeant Jerry Callahan is the spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Water Patrol Division.

“We encourage people to wear life jackets much older than that, and parents to set a good example. One of the best ways is for parents to buy an individual child their own lifejacket. It gives them the sense of ownership, and as long as it’s a comfortable life jacket, it’s one hopefully they can be proud to wear,” Callahan says.

Many lifejacket-loaning programs have also sprung up within the last year. The Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce has set up a rental program in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that people stay safe on the water. Kathy Clark is the Chairperson of the Table Rock Lake Chamber Legislative Committee.

“We are having life jackets that people can donate to have businesses advertise. Those life jackets can be checked out just at our core facilities and from our marinas so people can get on the lake,” Clarks says.

According to the website of the Brian and Nathan Keese Water Safety Organization, the group is working on several projects. Those include: implementing new life-jacket loaner stations, and placing warning signs at boat ramps about potentially bad weather. For KSMU News, I’m Mike Donnelly.