There is an irony in reviewing the dangers presented by water activities, as these activities are generally accompanied by warm memories and good times. However, as with all safety topics, reviewing the sad outcomes, allows us to focus on the safety measures that will prepare us, and thus mitigate against water based injuries and death. Multiple agencies across the Unites States, at federal, state, and local levels are invested in water safety and specifically prevention of death and/or injury from drowning. We may think about drowning as something that occurs in an ocean or a pool, and certainly that is accurate. Drowning can also occur in a bathtub, in a wading pool, a bucket of water, or anywhere where there is water that a person can immerse themselves in.
The CDC reports:
- Drowning is second only to birth defects as the cause of death for children ages 1-4.
- Drowning is second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for children ages 1-14.
- There are approximately 3,960 unintentional drownings reported yearly. These drownings include boating related accidental drowning. (Average of 11 drowning deaths/day).
- There are approximately 8,080 nonfatal drownings yearly. (The “Near Misses)
Drowning can happen in seconds and is often silent. In the time it takes to avert your eyes from a child in the water, to answer a cell phone a child can drown.
General Water Safety and Prevention of Drowning:
First on any list of water safety is learn to swim. Swimming lessons are widely available in private and community pools, lakes, Red Cross programs, and YMCAs. Pima County has a web site that identifies pools that provide swimming lessons. If a specific location is desired, call the facility directly. Children as young as 6 months old can be introduced to swimming. Adults at any age are highly recommended to take swimming lessons if they are not able to swim.
Personal Floatation Devices (PDFs):
These devices known commonly as life vests, life jackets or life preservers allows the wearer to keep their head and mouth above water and thus prevent drowning. Even an unconscious person in a life vest can float. PDFs are worn by people of all ages. Young children and/or adults just learning to swim, swimmers on a any boat moving through water, and swimmers involved in water activities that involve some risk such as water skiing are just some examples. Arizona law requires that children under age 12 wear a PDF while on a moving boat. All PFDs should be United States Coast Guard Approved. PDFs for Children are sized by weight. PDFs for adults are sized by chest size. Proper fit can be achieved by following instructions included with PDF. Please note an inflatable toy is not a PDF substitute
Use a Buddy System:
Avoid swimming alone. This applies to beginning and advanced swimmers, children, and adults. Accidents are never planned, regardless of age. Never try to rescue someone if you alone, as you risk endangering yourself. Have a phone available and call for help.
Along the same lines of having a buddy system, is the having a designated water watcher for
home swimming pools. If all adults sitting around a pool assume someone is watching, effectively no one is watching. Hence, the logic of a designated water watcher.
Learn CPR and First Aid:
Both are important skill sets for any emergency not just swimming. Again, have a phone available to call for help. Your Fire District can provide this training with the classes they offer to the public.
Keep Pool Areas Secured and Supervised:
Unsupervised access to a pool, be it a ground pool, above ground pool, an inflatable pool, or a wading pool, presents a danger to a child. Children can drown in a wading pool, they can climb steps to get into the inflatable pool, they can easily fall into a ground pool. The recommendation is to fence around a ground pool with a tamper proof gate, remove the ladder of an above ground pool and drain the inflatable wading pool. Put away all toys and objects that might attract a child to your pool.
How to recognize a drowning swimmer:
A distressed swimmer is a swimmer who is making no progress in whatever direction they are attempting to go. A distressed swimmer can be assumed to be a drowning swimmer, even in the absence of the signs associated with drowning listed below. The progression from a distressed swimmer to a drowning swimmer is very rapid. A swimmer who is floundering, attempting to swim unsuccessfully requires the same immediate attention as a swimmer with the signs of drowning.
SIGNS OF DROWNING: (Not all signs are always apparent)
- Head low in the water often with mouth at water level. Often head is tilted back. OR
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes are glassy, unfocused and can be closed
- Drowning is often a very silent act. Unlike movies and TV, drowning swimmers do not wave their arms and thrash. They are not able to yell for help.
- Hair over forehead or eyes
- Not using legs and vertical in water. Victim may appear limp in the water
- Hyperventilating or gasping.
- Skin may appear blue from lack of oxygen
- Very quiet, especially children
- Level of consciousness may be altered due to lack of oxygen
Drowning victims, most often 15 years of age or younger, are often 25 yards or less from a parent or an adult and not recognized as distressed. An estimated 10% of drowning victims are witnessed by an adult who does not recognize the signs of drowning.25 yards or less from a parent or an adult and not recognized as distressed. An estimated 10% of drowning victims are witnessed by an adult who does not recognize the signs of drowning.
If you spot someone drowning, get help immediately. Notify the lifeguard. If no lifeguard available, yell for help, dial 911. Only a person who has training in rescuing in water rescue should attempt to rescue a drowning person. An untrained person can endanger themselves and become a victim.
What you can do if not trained for rescue without compromising yourself:
- In this setting observe the motto: “Reach and throw-don’t go”. Throw a floatation device such a tube, or a life jacket, or anything that is handy and will float, such as a seat cushion, cooler, bags, ropes. A long pole can be helpful for the victim to hold onto and be pulled to safety.
- As soon as the victim is on dry land assess for the pulse and breathing and if not detectable, start CPR. The head and neck should be immobilized. If not possible to immobilize, keep very still to prevent extending or worsening any head or neck injuries.
- If the victim has low body temperature, wrap the victim in blankets
Finally, any near drowning victim should be evaluated at a medical facility. Drowning victims can aspirate water, leading to respiratory distress and pneumonia. Lack of oxygen to the brain can result in brain damage and should be assessed and treated. Drowning results in a disruption of the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. This too, needs assessment.
Don’t forget Your Dog:
Not all dogs like to swim or are intuitive swimmers. Some breeds like pugs and bulldogs have shorter snouts and big chests. Chest size makes the dog top heavy and thus swimming may tire the dog more easily or be difficult for the dog. Other dogs are amazing swimmers like Labs and Golden Retrievers. These dogs may not realize their own limits and overdo it. Puppies are not natural swimmers and can tire easily. When teaching any dog to swim choose a quiet section and shallow water. A leash is advised. If your dog doesn’t like the water don’t force the issue.
Closing with a Benjamin Franklin
quote that is applicable to safety:
“When in doubt-don’t”