May 26, 2023

Safety on the water is paramount during Memorial Day Holiday

Darkhorse Press

A boat on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Photo: Therese Apel

With Memorial Day marking the unofficial start of vacation season, millions of Americans are heading this weekend to swimming pools, lakes and beaches for fun in and on the water.  AMR paramedics urge safety in all water sports.

Jim Pollard, AMR spokesman, said, “A few simple but vital steps can reduce the risk of a tragedy while boating, swimming or diving.”

Pollard advised boaters:

  • Require everyone in the boat to wear a life jacket, both children and adults. Do not just drop the life vests onto the boat.  A vest or jacket works only if you wear it.
  • Know your boat and the boating “rules of the road.” Take a boating safety course.
  • Make sure your boat has all required safety equipment in working order.
  • DON’T OVERLOAD THE BOAT! Consider the size of your boat, the number of passengers and the amount of extra equipment that will be on-board.
  • Never let children take the wheel and pilot the boat, not even jet skis.
  • Power boat users should check the electrical and fuel systems for gas fumes.
  • Follow manufacturers’ recommendations BEFORE starting the engine.
  • Check the weather forecast. If severe weather threatens, get to shore immediately.
  • Tell a relative or friend where you are going and when you will return.

Pollard said drowning is a silent killer that everyone must guard against.  He said, “Each year, approximately 6,000 people drown in the US.  Drowning ranks high among the causes of death from trauma for people 15 to 44 years old.  The top four factors which lead to drowning are not wearing a life jacket, alcohol abuse, poor swimming skills and, in cold water, losing so much body heat that hypothermia sets in.”

Research has shown that two-thirds of people who drown never intended to be in the water, Pollard said.  They fall in from the bank, off a pier, out of a boat or otherwise enter the water unintentionally.  Most people drown within 10 to 30 feet of safety.  With those facts in mind, it is obvious:  Everyone in your family should learn to swim.

 To reduce drowning risks further, Pollard advised:Never swim alone no matter how skilled a swimmer you may be.

  • Never rely on toys such as water wings or even inner tubes to stay afloat
  • Don’t take chances by over-estimating your swimming skills.
  • Swim only in designated swimming areas.
  • Closely watch all children near water. Never leave small children alone in or near water, not even bathtubs and cleaning buckets!  In seconds, a small child can wander away and then fall or jump into water.  Children can drown in just a few inches of water.   Each year about 200 children drown in the United States.  Several thousand more nearly drown and require paramedics and hospitals for treatment.  Children who survive near-drowning may suffer permanent brain damage and breathing problems.  Surround pools with fences and install self-latching gates. Keep a phone nearby in all water sports.
  • Remember: A drowning person does not splash water loudly or scream.  That is why drowning is called the “silent killer.” It is dangerous to think, “Oh, if my child or friend gets in trouble in the water, I will hear it.”
  • Enter the water to save a drowning person only a last resort. Before risking your own life, stay on a firm base such a pier or boat.  From your base, extend a pole or throw a rope or life ring to the person or reach out your arm to them.

Unsafe diving is another worry for AMR’s medics.  Pollard said, “Never dive into lakes and rivers.  Hitting a shallow bottom or striking a submerged tree or rock may kill you or paralyze you for life from spinal cord injury.  Every year in the US, 8,000 people are paralyzed from diving and another 5,000 divers die before reaching a hospital. If you defy the risk and choose to dive, check the depth before diving and dive feet first.”

AMR medics also know many water sport tragedies are tied to drinking alcohol.  Pollard said, “Alcohol and water sports can be a deadly combination. More than half of all who drown have been drinking alcohol.  You do not have to be drunk to raise the risk of injury or death on or in the water.  Just one beer can impair balance, vision, judgment and reaction time.”

Pollard said, “Four hours of boating, with its constant exposure to noise, vibration, sun, glare and wind, produces fatigue with effects similar to legal intoxication.  Combine alcohol with boating fatigue and your risk of tragedy intensifies.”

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