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Summer Water Safety

A few years ago, I attended a seminar called "Traumas of Summer."  Several different topics were covered including mechanism of injury, biking safety, accidents in children, and even emergency response. However, the part of the training I remember the most, the part that is still the most vivid in my memory were the horrifying images when people did not practice water safety.

The state trooper who ran the session showed picture after picture of people who had been caught in boat rudders. Their bodies were mangled almost beyond recognition. The rudders had turned their bodies into almost human sausages. The sad part is that those events happen on the waters in our state and around the country every day. The accidents may be prevented if people practiced more water safety.

Photo by Jeanette R. Harrison

1. Wear a lifejacket. Some people think that when boating, "I'm a good swimmer, so I don't need a lifejacket." You may still need a lifejacket. What if the boat capsizes, you get hit in the head or otherwise become disoriented. If you are panicking and not wearing a lifejacket, there is the possibility you could drown.

2. Don't swim near propellers or when the engine is turned on. In many of the cases I mentioned above, the individual was swimming while the boat was on or was swimming near another boat that had the engine running. Boat propellers have a considerable amount of force (keep in mind they are moving your boat forward in the water), and swimmers can get caught up in their motion.

3. Wear bright colored swimming outfits. I spent years working at camps in the summer. As part of our drills every week, we would have to dive down to the bottom of a lake and look for a bright yellow bag containing bricks. My team and I usually looked for the bag in advance where I would do the initial search. Then, they would do the rescue because they were better at diving. In the murky lake waters, even searching for a yellow bag that we knew was there was hard to find. Wearing dark-colored clothing can make a search and rescue even more difficult for emergency personnel.

4. Monitor your alcohol consumption. Another issue we learned in the Traumas of Summer seminar was that people think they are out to have a good time everywhere in the summer, including the water. They believe that there is no harm in having a few too many when operating a boat or swimming. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that alcohol contributes to 16% (or almost 1 in 5) boating fatalities. The individual operating the boat should keep in mind that they are responsible for the lives and safety of everyone on board.

5. Stay ahead of the weather.  Boats are not safe places to be during a thunderstorm. There is a reason so many movies use the drama of a boat tossing and turning in the midst of choppy waters while it is raining...because it happens. Boaters and swimmers should plan ahead and plan not to be in the water, especially when thunderstorms are possible. Lightning may hit the boat and cause boaters to be stranded or swimmers may get caught under a boat or the boat may capsize. This includes large and small boats, like canoes.

National Safety Council. Recreational Boating: Stay Safe on the Water. Found online at
Boat U.S. Foundation. Swimming & Snorkeling. Found online at
American Red Cross. Swimming Safely in Lakes, Rivers, and Streams. Found online at
Coast Guard Compass Archive. 6 Most Common Rumors About Alcohol and Boating. Found online at
National Weather Service. Safe Boating and Thunderstorms. Found online at