Water Safety Tips

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Wearing a Life Jacket Can Save Your Life
To ensure that you survive unexpected slips or falls overboard wear your life jacket, because it buys you time to be rescued.  It only takes an adult an average of 60 seconds to drown and on average it takes 10 minutes for a strong swimmer to put on a life jacket after entering the water.  If you will not wear it for yourself then wear it for those who love you. Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns, learn more by following Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Never Exceed Your Swimming Abilities or Swim Alone
Regardless of how well you swim you could have to fight for your life due to unexpected conditions such as waves, current, or exhaustion.  A fellow swimmer can help you out when you encounter the unexpected. Remember your swimming abilities are likely to decrease with age so don’t overdo it. 

Alcohol and Water Are A Deadly Combination
When underwater and under the influence of alcohol or drugs you can suffer from an inner ear condition (caloric labyrinthitis) that causes you to become disoriented and not know which way is up.  Also, boaters can develop “boater’s hypnosis” a condition in response to sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion which causes fatigue and slows your reaction time. Combining that condition with alcohol or drugs greatly reduces your coordination, judgment and reaction time, which could lead to deadly consequences.

Your Involuntary Gasp Reflex Can Kill You
A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in your lungs to drown.  Your gasp reflex is delayed when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which can lead to a last breath of water, instead of air.  Falls contribute to 19% of all water-related fatalities on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed waters.

Proper Rescue of a Person Overboard
Many drowning victims are within 10 feet of safety, having unintentionally entered the water. You should never go near anybody struggling to stay afloat because you could drown too! To help rescue someone extend a pole, stick, line, or clothing to reach them or throw something floatable to them.  The "Reach, Throw, Row, Go for Help" rescue method is used to avoid multiple drownings.  www.army.mil/article/51402/reach-throw-row-dont-go

Drowning is a Silent Killer
An estimated 60% of all drownings are witnessed, because people are unable to identify the four signs of a drowning victim.  Signs are head back (bobs up and down above/below the surface), mouth open, no sound, and arms outstretched moving simultaneously in an above-the-water, up and down stroke that appears as if they are slapping or playing in the water. http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/

Be Aware of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that can harm and even kill you while you are inside or swimming outside of a boat. CO is lighter than water, so it invisibly hovers on the water’s surface. Prevent the unexpected by learning more about where CO may accumulate and CO poisoning symptoms.

Take a Boating Course
Learn valuable tips that can help save your life in unexpected situations by taking a NASBLA (National Association of Boating Law Administrators) approved boating safety course. Many insurance companies offer discounts to boating safety course graduates.  In addition, many states require a boating class for operators under a certain age.  These are offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, state agencies, and on-line.  To find a course visit https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/boating-safety-courses.php.

Learn to Swim Well and Practice Floating
Besides wearing a life jacket, learning to swim well is one of your best defenses against drowning.  Also, teach those you love and practice simple survival floating skills; remembering how to relax and float when exhausted can save your life.  Swimming in natural or open water is not the same as swimming in a pool.  The USA Swimming Foundation works with local partners to offer free swimming lessons.  Find a location near you at https://www.usaswimming.org/find-a-team.

Watch Your Children
You may not expect your child to reach overboard or turn the boat key to see what might happen so be alert.  On shore, children can quickly wander from the campground, picnic area or playground and end up in the water.  It takes an average of 20 seconds for a child to drown so always make them wear a life jacket and never take your eyes off them around water. 

Never Dive in Lakes & Rivers (Open Waters)
Open water situations where water depth is unknown and conditions are constantly changing floating or underwater debris can be very dangerous. You never know what might lie unseen below the surface of the water so diving should only be done in the deep end of a swimming pool.

Don't Depend on Floating or Air-filled Toys
There is no substitute for a life jacket, especially if you are a weak or non-swimmer.  Inflatable toys like water wings are not dependable to keep children afloat and can deflate in seconds.  Inflatable rafts or inner tubes can easily float into deep waters and might slip away from you or your child unexpectedly.  The consequences could be fatal. 

Cold-Water Immersion-HELP Response Can Save You
Cold-water immersion is the cause of many boating-related fatalities.  The danger increases as water temperature decreases below normal body temperature (98.6° F).  Cold-water immersion follows four stages, starting with cold shock, followed by swimming failure, then hypothermia and finally post-rescue collapse. Most cold-water drowning fatalities are attributed to the first two stages, not hypothermia.  All boaters should wear a life jacket and dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.  If self-rescue is not possible, actions to minimize heat loss should be initiated by remaining as still as possible in the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP), where your knees are drawn to your chest with your arms grasping them together, or simply huddling with your arms around other survivors in a circle.  Additional layers of clothing can help you stay afloat by trapping air.  Wet clothes will not weigh you down while in the water as many people perceive, because water does not weigh more than water.  “Cold Water Boot Camp” and “Beyond Boot Camp” are great videos produced by the National Water Safety Congress teaching how to survive a fall into cold water; they can be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/user/WaterSafetyCongress/videos.

Boat with Consideration for Others
You are responsible for any damage that your vessel or your wake causes.  Be cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times.  Obey all signs and posted restrictions.  Typically, irresponsible actions of boat operators lead to accidents, so boat responsibly.  www.uscgboating.org

Inspect Your Equipment
Before every trip you should perform a safety check of your vessel.  It is your responsibility to make sure you have all the required equipment on board such as life jackets, throwable device, certificate of number (state registration), fire extinguisher, visual distress signals, sound producing devices, and whatever additional items Federal and your state’s laws require.  Check your engine, ventilation, backfire flame arrestor, electrical systems and trailer before you go.  Take advantage of free vessel safety checks that are offered in your area by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Steer Clear of Commercial Vessels
Commercial vessels must stay within the navigation channel on rivers.  An average tow boat pushing barges can take ¾ to 1½ miles to come to a stop.  If you can’t see the pilot, he or she can’t see you, because a commercial pilot’s blind spot can extend for several hundred feet to the front and sides of the vessel. To learn more about how to properly lock through visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdbuzJiehm8.

Watch for Dangerous Waves or Signs of Rip Currents
Rip currents are powerful flows of water that pull you away from the shore, even if you are a strong swimmer.  These can occur in any body of water with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.  Swimming or even wading can turn into a tragedy if you don’t know how to identify and respond to rip currents.  These are identified by water that is discolored, unusually choppy, foamy, or filled with debris.  If you are caught in a rip current it is important to stay calm and not panic.  These are usually narrow currents so swimming parallel to the shore should get you out of them.  Once out of the current, swim toward the shore. www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/overview.shtml

Prepare for Sudden Weather Changes
It is best to check the weather conditions and file a float plan (See sample at https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll11/id/4806) with a responsible person before you go boating. Take maps or charts of the waterways you’re traveling and a weather radio or other device with you so you can check weather conditions while boating.  If you are caught in an unexpected storm, make sure everyone still has on their life jackets and have them sit on the bottom of the boat close to the centerline.  Reduce speed and head the bow of your boat into the waves at a 45-degree angle. Personal watercraft should head directly into the waves.

Wade with Caution
Watch for unexpected drop-offs and currents while wading in open-water situations.  The safest places to wade at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lakes are those designated as swimming areas because they are inspected for these types of dangers. 

Obey All Signs and Buoys
Many times, accidents, injuries, and fatalities could have been prevented if the person just followed the posted signs or buoys.  Staying within the buoys marking designated swim areas is the safest place to swim, especially where rescue equipment or lifeguards are located.  You swim at your own risk on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed waters because lifeguards are not provided; however, eighty percent of those who drown while swimming are outside of a designated swim area.

Don’t Rock Your Boat
Standing up in your boat can increase the risk of an unexpected fall overboard while your boat is underway, adrift or at anchor. Many falls overboard result in death, so to increase your chance of survival wear your life jacket!

Shallow Water Blackout
Avoid prolonged breath holding activities and games while swimming or playing in the water because it can lead to shallow water blackout. Shallow water blackout results from low oxygen to the brain.  A person basically “blacks out” or faints in the water. Shallow water blackout can affect anyone who is breath-holding, even physically fit swimmers.  It is especially seen in competitive swimmers, snorkelers, or anyone that free dives.  It can also occur when kids or people of any age play games to see how long they can hold their breath underwater or someone that does not know how to breathe properly when swimming or floating.

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