My email box was inundated today from friends and professional acquaintances passing on an article that appeared on Slate Magazine's website Tuesday. These people were not necessarily your typical aquatics people but from different professions. I think this is a good time to share with our communities some information about drowning. Below are some thoughts I've put together to people talking about the article. I intended for this to go to the general public and would love to get your thoughts.
Drowning is a real threat to our lives around water. The current professional Lifeguarding practices in place teach the facts that are talked about in the aforementioned article, but Lifeguards are just one layer of protection. Many people frequently swim in places where there is no Lifeguard.
Drowning (especially in a supervised area) is typically not a result of a single cause but a failure of several layers of protection. Relying on one single method to protect anyone is a recipe for disaster.
The main layers to preventing drowning are:
Active Parent Supervision- Parents need to actively supervise their children. For non-swimming children this means being in the water within an arm’s reach of their child. Active supervision means direct eye contact on the child and/or being in direct physical contact at all times. Parents should supervise no more than two non-swimming children at a time. Parents should still supervise younger children who can swim.
Trained adult supervisors monitoring the swimming area-Having a person trained in what a drowning person looks like and who has basic rescue skills to respond if a person becomes an active victim. An example would be a Lifeguard at a guarded facility or an adult lookout when with your family at a lake or river. Supervising the swimming area should be this person’s sole focus while they are supervising. This person should be in addition to the active supervisor in the water for non-swimmers.
Properly Fitting Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) for Non-Swimmers or anyone while boating- Lifejackets and PFD’s do not “drown proof” a child. In order to work effectively the PFD must fit the child, be rated to hold the child’s weight and be worn by the child. A lifejacket in your car or just on the boat does no good if they are not being used when a person ends up in the water.
Swimming Instruction for Non-Swimmers-It is a very basic concept, when there is no other contributing factors swimmers don’t drown. Factors like medical conditions, fatigue, injury, trauma, or shock make it to where swimmers cannot maintain consciousness and swim. Generally in safe swimming areas people with strong swimming skills are pretty safe. Swimming instruction reduces the chance of drowning.
The more layers of protection in place the better. Supervisors and Lifeguards are not perfect so it is not a good idea to rely on just one layer, we are all only human. Consider the following example from a community in Oregon several years ago:
A child with little swimming skills is wearing a PFD who is playing in the water with an adult at a community pool that is lifeguarded on a busy day. The adult goes to the rest room and asks the child to sit on the edge of the pool until they get back. While the adult is in the restroom the child takes off the PFD and returns to the pool and drowns.
The Lifeguard didn’t see the child because of the pool being busy which caused surface distortions. There was also glare on the water. The child couldn’t swim and there was no
active parent supervision. The PFD was less than 20 feet away from where the child died.
This is a tragic example of multiple points of failure. The key to prevent drowning is to put as many layers of protection in place as possible. While learning to swim will greatly reduce the risk of drowning, it should not be the only layer of protection in place.
This summer keep these tips in mind:
- Learn the signs of a drowning victim. If you think someone is in trouble, respond as if they are. Let a lifeguard know if you are at a guarded pool, try to reach or throw something that floats to assist the victim if you can safely do so. It is far better to respond to a false alarm then to have someone drown. Even someone who can usually swim may be in trouble.
- Always actively supervise your children, or children who may be with you near the water regardless of their swimming ability.
- Teach your children to not go into the water unless they are with an adult.
- Teach your children to swim. It doesn’t matter where you go or how you go about it, just making sure they can swim approximately 25 yards, comfortably with good form (1 length of most community pools) and tread water for 1 minute will greatly improve their ability to survive in the water under good conditions.
-Use PFD’s anytime you are boating, around rough water or cold water.