When the weather starts warming up, people gravitate towards water. Boating, visiting the neighborhood pool or local swimming hole, or taking a road trip to a lake or the seashore are all eagerly anticipated summer activities for grownups and kids alike. Swimming pools, rivers, lakes, and the ocean all can provide hours of outdoor enjoyment for the entire family. Spending time around water can be relaxing; swimming and playing in water can be really good exercise.
Unfortunately, all too often, incidents involving water can occur. According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury in the United States. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2015 they recorded 4,158 recreational boating accidents that involved 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries and approximately $42 million dollars in property damage.
Fortunately, taking steps towards becoming water safety aware can help keep you, your family and friends safe around, in, and on the water.
One big step towards water safety: wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Life jackets have a reputation for being hot, bulky and uncomfortable, but times have changed. Several styles are now on the market, from the traditional big orange life vest to inflatables worn around the waist or neck. Select one that is appropriate for your activity and be sure that it fits properly.
If you have children, make sure they haven’t outgrown last year’s life jackets, and always make sure all life jackets are in serviceable condition. If a life jacket is torn, faded, or otherwise appears unusable, or you are in doubt as to its condition, dispose of it and obtain a new one. Children’s floaties, inflatable rafts, and other water toys are not the same as a life jacket; make sure that you are relying on a Coast-Guard approved life jacket.
States have varying laws requiring life jacket use by children and/or during various activities such as water skiing; check with your state to find out what the specific requirements are. If you own or are renting a boat make sure that each person has a life jacket on board that fits and is in good condition; be sure that children have life jackets specifically designed for their use. Ideally everyone on board a vessel, no matter their age, should actually wear their life jacket; within reach doesn’t mean locked up in a storage compartment. If you are a parent, be a good water safety role model for your children and wear your life jacket, even if you are not planning on going in the water.
Don’t forget pets; if you are bringing your dog aboard, make sure your furry friend has a life jacket too!
Don’t drink and boat. Operating a boat is in many ways like operating a car, except that you are on the water instead of on the road.
Learn and obey boating laws and take a boating safety class (your state may require that you take one before operating a vessel). Check your state’s requirements for safety equipment including life jackets, fire extinguishers, navigation lights, throwable PFD’s and other equipment, and make sure that everything is in working condition before hitting the water. Consider the size of your vessel; make sure not to overload your boat. If you are planning on purchasing a new boat or a personal watercraft, make sure to learn the rules for operating it before going out on the water. Once you are ready to get out on the water, tell someone on shore where you are going and what time you expect to return. Check the weather before you head out.
Stay hydrated. Have plenty of water available for everyone.
Another important step towards water safety: teach your children how to swim. Local community parks and recreation departments, private swim schools, and the YMCA, among others, usually offer swimming lessons especially during the summer months. Many water safety-related organizations will also have information available on what to do if you think someone is in trouble in the water, including recognizing the signs of someone who is drowning and how to help them. Use the buddy system; never swim alone.
Never leave children unsupervised around water. If you are in a large group with many kids, sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of who is watching the kids in the water; everyone might be thinking someone else is doing it. Assign an adult to be the “watcher”, and if that adult needs a break, make sure that the responsibility for watching is actively assigned to another responsible person.
Be aware of your surroundings; especially in natural bodies of water like lakes or rivers. What appears shallow from the shoreline may suddenly drop off. If warning signs are posted, obey them- they are posted for a reason! Never dive into lakes or rivers; unknown and unseen dangers may be present underneath the water surface, and water levels can fluctuate.
You, your family and your friends can look forward to an enjoyable time out on the water this summer; just be sure to take safety into consideration and be prepared. Federal and state agencies which manage water resources such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and your state department of natural resources can offer more detailed information on being safe around water. The U.S. Coast Guard also has a website dedicated to water safety information, http://www.uscgboating.org. , as does the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety), Check local resources such as your city’s parks and recreation department or the YMCA for swimming lessons and CPR/first aid classes. Invest some time in researching, preparing, and learning about water safety, and then enjoy your time outdoors and on the water!