Summer weather has finally arrived in South Sound, and with it the tragic stories of one drowning after another. Three people drowned in Pierce County lakes in three days.
Drownings are preventable, and now is the time for parents and youngsters to insist on a few common-sense rules while enjoying the refreshment of a dip in a cool lake or river.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death among people of all ages. In 2002, there were 3,447 unintentional drownings in the United States – an average of nine a day – and that did not include boating-related incidents. An average of three children between the ages of 1 and 14 drown each day nationally.
The statistics for Washington state are equally grim. Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for kids in this state. While drowning rates continue to decline, an average of 27 children under the age of 18 drown in this state each year. The two groups of children most at risk are teens between 15 and 17, and youngsters between the ages of 1 and 4.
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Most of the drowning victims are people who are swimming, boating, or just playing in or near water.
Based in part by a number of boating-related drowning deaths, the Washington Legislature passed a law that requires boaters age 12 and older to pass a boating safety course or an equivalency exam before operating a motorboat with an engine of 15 or more horsepower. That law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
Officials at Seattle Children’s Hospital have done a good job to debunk a couple of the myths surrounding drowning.
The first myth, officials say, is that drowning is noisy and that parents will hear their children when they need help.
Not so, say officials at Children’s. Young children don’t have the ability to right themselves or stand up even in a few inches of water. As a result, many simply slip away in silence.
Most drownings happen in a brief lapse in supervision, while a parent or responsible adult is distracted or has his or her back turned away — even for just a few minutes. It’s not just children who slip away in silence. Recently a 24-year-old man from Spring Hill, Tenn., died at Lake Tapps after he disappeared while swimming with family members. Alexandra Adkins of Lakewood was sunbathing at American Lake when lifeguards pulled the man from the water.
“Nobody saw him go under,” she said. “The kids were making a lot of noise. Nobody could hear anything.”
A second myth, according to Children’s Hospital officials, is that people who don’t live or vacation near rivers, streams and lake don’t need to worry.
Toddlers have drowned in five-gallon buckets, garden ponds and toilet bowls. Parents should keep young children out of the bathroom except when directly supervised and don’t leave buckets or barrels where they can gather water. Children can drown in just a few inches of liquid.
There are some common sense rules to follow this time of year while enjoying Washington waterways:
• Know the water: Watch out for hypothermia. Water below the surface can be significantly colder than that warmed by the sun. Health officials note that water will rob a body of its heat faster than cold air and when hypothermia hits, muscles don’t work as well and people panic. Check water conditions, never dive or jump into unfamiliar or shallow water. Swim in designated areas.
• Don’t try to swim long distances.
• Know your limits: Partner with someone who can keep an eye on you in the water. Inexperienced swimmers should wear life vests. Seventy-five percent of boating fatalities could be prevented by using life jackets.
• Don’t swim while intoxicated. Alcohol and drugs, even prescription drugs, dull the senses and can lead to trouble.
• Be safe: Take swim lessons, learn to float and tread water, swim in lifeguarded areas, have parental/adult supervision.
These are common sense solutions to the preventable tragedy associated with drowning. By following these guidelines, children and adults, can greatly enjoy Washington’s magnificent water resources and come home safely.