Layers of Protection
PAMELA DOTY and R.J. GARREN
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
There seems to be somewhat of a controversy on social media with people questioning whether it’s best to take swimming lessons or wear a life jacket to prevent drownings. Implementing as many layers of protection as possible is the best answer to help prevent drownings.
Let’s start with the facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 through 4. Most of those drownings are in pools; however, the older someone gets, the more likely they are to drown in open waters (i.e., lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans). According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the nation’s leading provider of water-based recreation, over the past 10 years, 88 percent of USACE water-related fatalities were men and 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
The best way to prevent drownings is to implement all the preventive measures possible. These measures include various types of barriers for pools such as fences, pool covers, gates that close and latch by themselves, alarms (gates, doors, pools and personal), life jackets, education, and, most important of all, adult supervision without any distractions. Lifeguards are not babysitters. Whether a child has had swim lessons or they’re wearing a life jacket, they should not be more than an arm’s reach from an adult while they’re in the water. Also, an adult should be watching children constantly and without distractions. Many of these same preventive measures can also be applied to open waters.
The best protection to prevent drowning in open water is to always wear a life jacket whenever you’re in, on or near the water. In open waters, most adults who drown reportedly knew how to swim. Also, children who drown often had swimming lessons. Venturing outside of a designated swimming area is the leading cause of drowning in USACE lakes and rivers. Most people learned to swim in a pool where they could easily reach safety. Dealing with wave action or current in open waters can reduce your swimming ability, especially if you don’t swim on a regular basis.
Falls from boats, docks and shore are the second-leading cause of drownings on our nation’s waters. It’s a little known fact that when you enter cold water unexpectedly, your gasp or torso reflex can cause you to inhale water and drown. Some believe that any water colder than body temperature can cause this to happen. Those who fall could also have difficulty swimming back to safety or entering a boat from the water. They could be knocked unconscious or become disoriented underwater, especially if they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Always wearing a life jacket prepares you for unexpected falls and increases your chances for survival.
Doctors and water safety experts are becoming more aware of how carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, especially when swimming around boats, is another drowning risk. Carbon monoxide is heavier than air and lighter than water, so it sits on top of the water’s surface. Inhaling this colorless, odorless gas when you’re in the water may cause you to quickly and silently pass out and drown. Wearing a life jacket gives you the opportunity to be rescued. The following link takes you to a brochure to help you learn more about the causes and risks of CO poisoning from boats: https://www.uscgboating.org/assets/1/Publications/co_brochure_0105.pdf.
Boating and water safety education is critical. Children need to be taught very early the difference between floating with and without a life jacket and the differences between swimming in a pool and open water. Another vital aspect of water safety education is drowning rescue response. Standard CPR certification programs rarely teach how to resuscitate a drowning patient. Advanced CPR teaches that breaths are critical to drowning rescue, so always give drowning patients breaths and compressions!
The USACE’s Life Jackets Worn … Nobody Mourns campaign strives to educate people about drowning risks and the importance of implementing layers of protection. You can assist in these efforts to reduce drownings by always wearing a life jacket, learning to swim well, watching children without distractions, learning proper CPR for a drowning patient, and sharing this information with your friends and family. Working together we can and will save lives.