June 6, 2005
In some parts of the
country, the season of water sports and outdoor activities is
just beginning. In some regions, the season lasts all year. Wherever
you are, summer
vacation often means more time to enjoy the water and water related
Earlier this spring:
"A U.S. Coast Guard crew in Humboldt County took part in
a daring sea rescue, plucking two boogie boarders from an onslaught
of rough waves off Samoa Beach. Two teenage boys were found clinging
to a single boogie board for flotation at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday
after a strong riptide dragged them away from shore. A helicopter
rescue swimmer was lowered from a helicopter and was able to get
a strap around the first boy, and quickly hoisted him aboard.
The second boy lost his grip on the boogie board and had to be
snatched from the powerful waves by hand. 'They were physically
exhausted, and extremely grateful when we arrived to save them,'
said Coast Guard Petty Officer Dave Beacham."
Whether your friends
are going out and inviting you to try something new, or it is
an activity with which you have years of experience, it is important
to know what you are getting yourself into given the conditions
on any given day.
"Be in shape for
what you intend to do. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise,
but don't attempt more than your physical condition easily allows.
Cold water, currents and other conditions on the open water require
more energy than does swimming in a pool. If you're not in shape,
you might have a hard time making it back to shore. As with any
activity that you're not doing regularly, start out slowly. ..."
Even if you are in shape,
it is important to know what to do if conditions get out of control.
"Don't panic if
you get caught in a strong current. Trying to swim directly toward
shore won't help. You probably won't make any progress against
the current, and you'll just tire yourself out. Instead, swim
in a line parallel to the shore. When you feel the current relax,
you can swim toward shore."
Do you live further inland?
"[C]onditions on the open water require more energy than
does swimming in a pool," but there are still precautions
that can be taken when enjoying time by the pool.
"When it comes to
backyard swimming pools, [Marie M. Lozon, M.D., of the University
of Michigan Health System] thinks lessons are a great idea. But
they are not a 'panacea' because children still may harm themselves
if they are playing carelessly in the water. She also warns of
the problem of teens drinking alcohol while partying at a lake
or pool. 'That's where we see a lot of judgment errors and drownings
as a result of teens being intoxicated, falling in and drowning
and unable to assist themselves,' she says. 'You can't always
monitor them 24 hours a day, but I think everybody should talk
to their teen about the impairment of judgment that occurs when
one uses alcohol, especially when one is going to be near a water
Whether you are enjoying
time with your friends, or you are responsible for younger children
near the water, it is important to make sure that your judgment
is at its best. Some statistics to keep in mind:
"Alcohol use is
involved in about 25% to 50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated
with water recreation. It is a major contributing factor in up
to 50% of drownings among adolescent boys."
occur when the victim is unconscious or exhausted and unable to
access air. This may be, for example, a swimmer who experiences
a heart attack while in the ocean, exhaustion and coma due to
hypothermia after breaking through the surface of a frozen lake,
or merely a drunk person passing out in a small puddle. (PCP users
frequently lose their sense of direction as well, and drowning
is a major cause of death for them.) A few centimeters of water
are sufficient for drowning if the victim lies face down on the
And whether or not your
judgment is impaired, it is important to note that:
of boating-related deaths were due to drowning; 89% of people
who drowned were not wearing personal flotation devices."
While some risks seem
obvious, and precautions can be easily taken to improve the safety
in such situations, other times there can be hidden risks.
"The U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission has reports incidents including deaths
in which people's hair was sucked into the suction fitting drain
of a spa, hot tub, or whirlpool bathtub, causing the victims'
heads to be held under water. The suction from drain outlets is
strong enough to cause entrapment of hair or body parts, and drowning.
Most accidents with drain outlets involve people with hair that
is shoulder-length or longer. Hair entrapment occurs when a bather's
hair becomes entangled in a suction fitting drain cover as the
water and hair are drawn powerfully through the drain. In several
incidents, children were playing a 'hold your breath the longest'
game, leaning forward in the water and permitting their long hair
to be sucked into the drain. ..."
Are your friends asking
you to do something that you don't think is safe? Are the younger
children around you playing a game that you think could be potentially
dangerous? What about the specific threat caused by "suction
from drain outlets"?
"Wear a bathing
cap or pin hair up if you have long hair. Never allow a child
to play in a way that could permit the child's hair to come near
the drain cover. Always supervise children around a spa, hot tub,
whirlpool bathtub, wading pool, or swimming pool."
Are you responsible for
younger children this summer? Will you be watching them when there
is even a small amount of water? Drowning is the second leading
cause of unintentional injury-related death (after car accidents)
for children younger than 14 years. It's the number-one cause
of unintentional injury-related deaths for kids ages 1 to 4.
* Nearly 1,000 children die every year by drowning.
* Most drownings involving children ages 1-4 occur in home swimming
* Drowning often happens quickly and quietly - there is little
noise to alert parents that the child is in danger.
* The majority of young children who drowned were last seen in
the home, were in the care of one or both parents at the time
of drowning, and had been out of sight for less than 5 minutes.
With precautions in place,
accidents still happen -- even among those who are trained as
rescuers. In one case, an alert teen saved their lives.
"An Annapolis teenager
is being hailed as a hero in California after helping to rescue
two firefighters. Alex Smith-Jones is attending college in Stockton,
Calif. He was at water polo practice when he noticed that a firefighter
using the pool for a training exercise was in trouble at the bottom
of the pool. Alex and his teammates helped pull him and another
firefighter to safety."
Questions of the Week:
What circumstances will bring you near the water this summer?
(Are you living or vacationing near oceans? lakes? swimming pools?
hot tubs? wading pools? others?) What are different precautions
for different bodies of water? What precautions are the same?
What safety information should you have in mind when it is just
you and your friends? How can you be safe and still have fun?
What can you do and/or say when "everyone" is doing
something that makes uncomfortable, or that you think is unsafe?
What additional safety precautions should you take when you are
around small children? What additional knowledge should you have?
What can you do and/or say when children you are with are doing
something that you think is unsafe? Would you know what to do
if there was a water emergency involving one of your friends,
or a child in your care?
For more information
about swimming and water safety courses in your area, visit:
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum