In summer the water beckons, but beware, danger can lurk 


The summer heat is here! Which means the pools are open, visits and plans to vacation at the beaches are booked, lakes and rivers are on the upswing, and many people are dreaming of aquatic adventure. 

However, for all the pleasures that water can provide, swimming, wading, and cavorting in the water are not to be taken lightly. Swimming is a magical activity that can turn in an instant to disaster. Safety groups such as Ready OC advise that preparedness is the key.

Johnny Johnson, of Tustin, a water safety ambassador, swim teacher, and founder of the Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation, says, “People have to understand when there’s a body of water, whether it’s a five-gallon bucket or an ocean, there’s always risk.”

Water safety advocates note that a person can die silently in inches of water in less than a minute.

In July, National Drowning Prevention Week is held and recognized throughout Orange County with events at pools and aquatic centers.

Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that roughly about 10 people per day, up to 3,400-4,000, die from drowning, and many thousands more are treated in Emergency Rooms for near-drowning injuries. 

Part of the problem in the aquatics world is that numbers are hard to come by. There is no central, reliable database to track drownings. Furthermore, no standard exists for attributing deaths to drowning.

For example, drowning may not be listed as a cause of death for a person who is pulled from a pool and later dies from cardiac arrhythmia or a pulmonary injury. A person can drown on dry land hours after inhaling water in a near-drowning incident. This is known as secondary drowning.

As a result, there is speculation that reported numbers are vastly under-reported.

For infants 1 to 4 years old, drowning is the Number 1 cause of unintentional injury-related death annually, with nearly 25 percent happening during family and social gatherings at pools.

Children are not the only ones at risk. Annually, adults represent more than half of the drowning deaths in the U.S., with alcohol often a contributing factor.

To help respond to the dangers, Orange County-based Stop Drowning Now has developed a three-pronged message called Safer 3.

According to the Safer 3 website, “There are three dimensions of risk in every drowning; the water, the person and the response. Thus we created the Safer 3 Message as a simple way to educate people simply, quickly, and easily.  We chose “safer” over “safe” because no one is ever completely free from drowning risk when they are enjoying the water. The risk may vary in degree from very slight to very severe.”

For all its allure, water is an alien atmosphere. In fact, of the majority of drowning deaths or water-related other injuries, almost all are entirely and easily avoidable.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Dan Berzansky, of Laguna Niguel, Vice President of Stop Drowning Now. But simple precautions and common sense can make water a delightful addition to summer fun.

1: Teach your children well

“Kids need to learn to respect the water,” is one of Johnson’s mottos.

It’s estimated that 88 percent of drowning could be prevented with classes on water awareness, safety and skills. 

Water safety advocates say just taking one class is not enough. No “Mommy and Me” session suffices. One summer refresher is not enough. 

“’My child is water safe,’ it’s such a common misconception,” Berzansky said. “There’s no muscle memory.”

Swimming is an ever-evolving skill. There are many free and low-fee courses available in Orange County.

A June CDC report said that long-standing racial disparities in drowning deaths have not improved since 1999, so outreach is important to make all communities aware of swim safety classes and opportunities. 

Those who swim in lakes, the ocean, and rivers face additional hazards, such as currents, tide, wind, chop and what lies below the surface that can snag and pull a person down. 

“People can be fine in the pool and when they get hit by the first wave it all goes away,” according to Berzansky. “It really is a skill for life.”

2: Be vigilant

According to Berzansky, “one of the most common things we hear when we talk with individuals involved with unintentional drowning is ‘we thought someone else was watching them,’ or ‘I thought someone closed the gate or door.’”

It may seem like a hassle, but a responsible, and sober, adult should always observe and supervise the kids. Assign an adult as a “Water Watcher,” who should be within arms length of the swimmers at all times. Rotate watchers so they can be alert and focused.

Given the stakes, it’s a small price.

Learn CPR. It is an invaluable life-saving skill. The American Heart Association advises rescuers of drowning victims to deliver two rescue breaths first, and then begin the cycles of compressions and breaths.

Keep a first aid kit and phone close to water hazards.

3: Protect your pool

Pools, including play pools, should have complete four-sided isolation fencing that is self-locking and self-closing and latching.

Remove objects around the fence that children can use to scale to get over.

Drain any water that collects on the pool cover, or use a cover that allows water to drain back into the pool. The pool cover should be sturdy enough to support the weight of an adult and too heavy for a child to lift.

Play pools should be drained when not in use and remove all toys from the pool area.

Invest in a pool alarm. Depending on the type of alarm, it can alert you when someone is in or near the pool. Alarms typically work either by detecting waves in the pool or registering when a light beam is broken. Keep it armed at all times. Drownings happen quickly and seconds can matter.

4: Wear a life jacket

You may not want to cover up, but the importance of life jackets are in the name. 

Water-wings, inflatable toys, flotation devices, and rings are good to have around, but cannot replace a life jacket.

With modern life jacket technology, you don’t have to give up fashion to stay safe. However, it is important to make sure the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard certified. Jackets can be either inflatable or naturally buoyant.

Different types of jackets are appropriate for different uses, from Type I to Type V. Type I are off-shore life jackets designed to help swimmers stay afloat in rough, open water for a prolonged period of time and keep a person face-up if unconscious. Higher numbered jackets are generally sleeker and allow greater freedom of movement but may provide less buoyancy.

5: Don’t drink

Impaired judgment, lost coordination, slower reaction time, less responsiveness to CPR, the litany of reasons to not drink and swim is long and persuasive.

In up to half of all water-related deaths, alcohol is involved and the rate is particularly stark for teen and young adult males.