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Drowning risks in natural water settings

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years, and the fifth leading cause for people of all ages, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In 2007, at least 43 percent of all recreational water drownings occurred in natural water settings. Another 9 percent of drownings occurred in boating incidents, for a total of 52 percent. This is almost three times the number of drownings occurring in swimming pools in the same year (19 percent).

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, almost 75 percent of all persons killed in boating incidents in 2007 drowned. Of those, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Operator error, lack of training and alcohol use contribute to the risk of drowning in a boating incident. Twenty-nine percent of deaths occurred on boats that were anchored, docked, moored or drifting.

Safety tips

Whether it’s an uneven lake bottom or drop-off, rip current or unexpected hazardous weather, swimmers in natural water settings need to be aware of the dangers and take special precautions to stay safe.

Here are a few safety tips:

• Learn to swim.—Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision is necessary when children are in or around the water.

• Watch swimmers in or around the water—Designate a responsible adult who can swim and knows CPR to watch swimmers in or around water. The supervisor should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, or talking on the phone) while watching children.

• Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)—In the time it might take for lifeguards or paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone’s life.

• Use buddy systems and lifeguards—Regardless of your age, always swim with a buddy. And select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.

• Know the terrain—Be aware of and avoid drop-offs and hidden obstacles in natural water sites. Always enter water feet first.

• Avoid rip currents—Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents (e.g., water that is discolored and choppy, foamy or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore). If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore; once free of the current, swim toward shore.

• Use life jackets—Use U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets when boating, regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat, or swimming ability of boaters. Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings,” “noodles” or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets (personal flotation devices). These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

• Avoid alcohol—Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating or water skiing. When boating, safety risks from alcohol use are increased whether boat operator or passenger. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.

• Learn boating safety—Take a boating safety course.

• Know the weather—Know the local conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.