Water Safety & Drowning

DrowningWith summer fast approaching, more and more people will be making their way to local beaches, lakes, rivers and swimming pools for some much needed rest and relaxation.  Unfortunately, while fun, the increase in swimming during the summer months also brings a yearly increase in the number of drowning victims – both children and adults.  While tragic, many of these deaths and experiences are very avoidable if basic safety rules are followed.

Every year there are almost 4,000 deaths from drowning in the US, with 1 in 5 victims being 14 years old or younger.  Although not all incidents are fatal, 50% of all drowning victims require hospitalization and many suffer from permanent brain damage.  Some of the more common risk factors for drowning are:

  • Lack of Swimming Ability:  Although many adults report that they are unable to swim proficiently, the temptation to ignore this and enter the water is also high.  When swimming in a natural setting such as a lake, river or the ocean, good swimming skills are extremely important; while the surface of the water may appear calm or “easy” to swim in, the current may actually be very strong.
  • Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen very quickly and quietly anywhere there is water (such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets), and even in the presence of lifeguards.  Avoid swimming alone, and if swimming with children always keep them in view.
  • Location: People of different ages drown in different locations. For example, most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools.  The percentage of drownings in natural water settings (including lakes, rivers and oceans) increases with age.  More than half of all drownings among those older than 14 occurred in natural water settings.  In the Puget Sound region many of the lakes and rivers are fed by snowmelt and will remain very cold for much of the summer; this causes swimmers to tire much more rapidly and can cause a quick onset of hypothermia.
  • Failure to Wear Life Jackets:  Most boating deaths are attributed to the lack of a life jacket; in one year 88% of all victims did not have a life jacket on.  For younger children, wearing a life jacket is important when around any type of water.
  • Alcohol Use:  In teens and adults alcohol use is associated with almost 75% of all drowning deaths and incidents. 

When swimming or spending time around water, these basic safety tips can help prevent a tragedy:

Learn to swim before entering the water!

Never go enter the water after drinking alcohol!

Never swim alone or out of sight of your group.

If diving into a natural water setting, never dive in head first.

If swimming with children keep them under supervision at all times.

If a swimmer appears in trouble or is missing DO NOT DELAY, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!

If you do encounter a swimmer in trouble, the first step is to immediately call 911.  If they are located in a natural setting, or on an open body of water, keep the swimmer in sight at all times; if you must leave to call 911, it is best someone else do so.  If you lose sight of them, note where their last known location was to inform rescuers when they arrive.

Avoid entering the water to attempt a rescue unless you are a very strong swimmer and have been properly trained to do so; first, attempt to reach the swimmer with an object (oar, pool skimmer, rope) then throw an object that floats to them.  Do not try to physically reach them; most drowning victims will be panicked and it is common for them to pull untrained would-be rescuers underwater leading to a double tragedy. 

Once the victim is out of the water (if rescuers are not present) check their breathing status; if they are not breathing or have slow, labored breathing begin CPR immediately.

For more information on drowning and water safety visit the American Red Cross:  http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety