U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Fort Worth District
Fort Worth, Texas
I was finishing a long day of lake patrol when I heard a voice over the radio say, “There has been a report of a potential drowning.” Immediately, my body went numb. All I could think was, “Please don’t let it be true.” At the time, I’d spent four years as a park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, unfortunately, seen the same scenario replayed repeatedly — lives lost from both carelessness around the water and lack of education concerning water safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths in the United States. It’s estimated that 10 people die each day as a result of drowning. Sadly, a large portion of those victims are would-be rescuers. Before attempting to rescue someone, always keep in mind Reach, Throw, Row and Don’t Go.
- Reach. If someone near you is drowning, first try reaching out to him or her with something near you such as a pool toy, branch, fishing pole or anything sturdy. Remember not to lean too far over and keep your feet firmly planted where you are standing to prevent yourself from falling in and also becoming a victim.
- Throw. If the person is too far out to reach, throw something to them. Make sure you throw something that floats (e.g., an ice chest, life preserver, throw cushion, ring buoy, etc.). If possible, it is best to tie the object to something secure to pull in the victim.
- Row. If reaching and throwing are not feasible and you have access to a boat, you can row to the victim.
- Don’t Go. Unless you are a trained professional in water rescue (e.g., a trained lifeguard), never go in after a victim. A drowning person will try to climb on top of the rescuer, forcing them under the water in an effort to stabilize themselves and get air.
There are a few rules everyone should remember when swimming or boating. First, never swim alone. We aren’t invincible, and you never know what will happen. Nobody plans to drown, and it only takes seconds. A drowning person doesn’t make a lot of noise. Try gasping for air and screaming and you’ll see it doesn’t work very well.
Second, know your limits. It only takes enough water to cover a person’s nose and mouth for them to drown. So many times we try to be the cool guy and push or exceed our capabilities. I have seen too many bodies pulled from the water as a direct result of pushing limits and taking unnecessary risks.
The most important thing any of us can remember is to wear a personal flotation device. I have never seen a drowning victim that was wearing a PFD. There are many types of PFDs available for water-based activities. Choosing not to wear one should never be an option. The difference between choosing to use a PFD and going without could be your life. Nobody is waterproof, so always wear your PFD!
Following simple rules and using good judgment around water will save your life and possibly the lives of others. Don’t end up drying out in the morgue.