New program to keep Fresno Co. lake safe

FRESNO, Calif.

People are now required to wear life jackets nearly all the time. The new rules went into effect on Friday.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a nationwide life jacket study. Pine Flat Lake was chosen to participate.

A few boaters hit the water Sunday despite the cooler and windier conditions at Fresno County's Pine Flat Lake.

There, they got an important message from park manager Tom Ehrke.

The new guidelines started April 1.

Life jackets are now required for:
-everyone swimming more than one hundred feet from the shoreline
-everyone aboard all paddle boats, and canoes regardless of length at all times
-everyone aboard motorized vessels up to 16 feet in length at all times, which includes fishing boats and wave runners
-and everyone aboard a 16 foot or larger boat, whenever it's moving

Some boaters think the new rules are excessive.

"We always carry them on board, but wearing them all the time. It's gonna be a drag," Sam Brownen of Hanford said.

But, others, like Tony Degidio of Kingsburg are all for it.

Three people have drowned at Pine Flat Lake over the past two years, including his brother in law, who died this past December. "Maybe if it was for the life jacket, he might have floated to shore, you know, maybe floated to shore safe."

Pine Flat Lake is one of 14 lakes nationwide participating in this study but with 400,000 visitors every year, park employees say enforcing this new law will be a challenge.

"We only have a limited amount of ranger staff up here."

Signs like this one are posted throughout the lake area.

Rangers have also passed out flyers and they've made these loaner life jackets available.

All of which is being done with both swimmers' and boaters' safety in mind.

"And we really want to increase their odds at going home at the end of the day. we feel like this is a positive study and we're hoping for some excellent results," Tom Ehrke, the Pine Flat Lake manager said.

At this point--rangers are simply giving people verbal warnings.

But, those who don't comply could face a $175 fine.

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