In 2010, Craig Keese, his son Brian, and Brian’s son Nathan, were all on a fishing camp-out in Missouri at Stockton Lake when a great storm came.
Their boat was discovered about two miles into the lake, upside down, with lifejackets still on board. The lifeless bodies of Brian and eight-year old Nathan were not found until weeks later.
Craig Keese survived the storm, and now his family has begun a loaner life jacket program. They partner with local groups to supply the jackets and the stations where they hang. Their mission is to increase safety awareness and the availability of life jackets. Keese insists that drownings could be prevented in most cases if people would just wear a life jacket.
Most of the life jackets put out for lend are the commonly-seen bright orange. This was intentionally arranged, as people are less likely to run off with a jacket that is isn’t fashionably decorated. “They aren’t very fashionable, but they work,” says Rick Noble, who is a board member of the Wateree Home Owners Association of Fairfield County.
A spokeswoman from Duke Energy, Lisa Hoffmann, says, “The long-term vision is to have these life jacket loaner boards at every one of the access areas at all the lakes we manage.” Duke Energy manages Lake Watertree, and currently has eleven lifejacket posts located between three of their lakes.
Watertree has four of these boards. Rick Noble claims it took about $3,500 to get all four set up, including the cost of lifejackets and backup inventory. This was all sponsored, among others, by Lake Wateree Presbyterian Church and Lake Wateree Baptist Church.
Bett Williams is the director of communications for Children’s Trust of South Carolina, one of the project’s partners. She informs us that the lifejacket posts include a billboard, which is aimed at prevention. It reminds people to make use of lifejackets, and also shows a diagram of how to use properly wear one. Even if someone doesn’t need to borrow a jacket, she says, they might be more likely to use the ones they own if they read the reminders on the board, especially on children. The biggest hope is to prevent another tragedy like what the Keese Family experienced.
“It is preventable,” Craig Keese said. “Put them on. Wear them. Period.”
What does your family do to stay safe in the water? Share your comments below!