Water Safety Tips for Summer
As we move into the hottest part of summer, many people
will be spending a lot of time in water - having fun
and staying cool. Water safety is a key concern,
and it is important that everyone is aware of the key
signs indicating that someone is in real distress, and
in danger of drowning. The following information is
courtesy of the US Coast Guard.
True story: The new captain jumped from the
cockpit of his boat, fully dressed, and sprinted through
the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his
victim as he headed straight for the owners who were
swimming between their boat and the beach. "I think
he thinks you're drowning," the husband said to
his wife. They had been splashing each other and she
had screamed, but now they were just standing, neck-deep
on the sand bar. "We're fine, what is he doing?"
she asked, a little annoyed. "We're fine!"
the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain
kept swimming hard. "Move!" he barked as he
sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind
them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter
was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of
the captain, she burst into tears, "Daddy!"
How did this captain know, from fifty feet away,
what the father couldn't recognize from just ten?
Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for
help that most people expect. The captain was
trained to recognize drowning by experts and years
of experience. Drowning is almost always a deceptively
quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling
that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares
us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.
The Instinctive Drowning Response - so named
by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do
to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the
water. And it does not look like most people expect.
There is very little splashing, no waving, and
no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get
an idea of just how quiet and non-dramatic from
the surface drowning can be, consider this: It
is the number two cause of accidental death in
children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle
accidents) - of the approximately 750 children
who will drown next year, about 375 of them will
do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult.
In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will
actually watch them do it, having no idea it is
happening (source: CDC). Real drowning does not
look like people have been "conditioned"
to expect. Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast
Guard's On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive
drowning response like this:
1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are
physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory
system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary
or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before
2. Drowning people's mouths alternately sink below
and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths
of drowning people are not above the surface of the
water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call
out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are
above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as
their mouths start to sink below the surface of the
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively
forces them to extend their arms laterally and press
down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface
of the water permits drowning people to leverage their
bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water
4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning
people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements.
Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling
on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and
perform voluntary movements such as waving for help,
moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece
of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning
Response people's bodies remain upright in the water,
with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued
by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only
struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds
before submersion occurs.
|| This doesn't mean that a person that
is yelling for help and thrashing isn't in real
trouble - they are experiencing aquatic distress.
Not always present before the instinctive drowning
response, aquatic distress doesn't last long - but
unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist
in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, thrown
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons
are in the water:
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- Eyes closed
- Hair over forehead or eyes
- Not using legs - vertical
- Hyperventilating or gasping
- Trying to swim in a particular direction but
not making headway
- Trying to roll over on the back
- Not able to communicate
Sometimes the most common indication that someone is
drowning is that they don't look like they're drowning.
They may just look like they are treading water and
looking up at the deck. One way to be sure is to, ASK
them: "Are you alright?" If they can answer
at all - they probably are. If they return a blank stare
- you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.
And parents: children playing in the water make noise.
When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find
Be aware, be safe - have a great summer!
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