Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

A Pound of Prevention: Strategies that Work


Personally, I have been waiting for the warm weather since last fall, for many good reasons; shorts, flip flops, fresh vegetables, longer days and most important, playing in the water. Be it the pool, lake, river or ocean, we are all attracted to the water. Unfortunately, as much fun as the water brings, the dangers of water are not recognizable until it is too late. According to the centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning daily; two of them are children under the age of 14. This ranks drowning fifth among the causes of unintentional injury deaths in the United States. This author hopes to utilize these few pages to paint a clear picture of the factors leading up to these drowning events, as well as a list of proven preventative strategies to utilize with your family and friends to put a stop to these tragic events. The primary factors influencing the majority of unintentional drowning events fit into the following areas:

Lack of proper supervision – By far, the greatest influence on reducing unintentional drowning is ensuring that a designated individual is tasked with watching children in the water. Unconditional supervision; simply defined by no quick texts, potty breaks or phone time without a relief watcher .

Lack of swimming ability - Research has shown that formal swimming lessons can greatly reduce the drowning incidents in children aged 1-4. Your local YMCA, as well as sanctioned swimming facilities throughout your community, is a great place to start. Swimming lessons are just as important for adults as well, as it is never too late to learn a skill that can save your life.

Lack of a barrier device – Fencing is designed to keep children from accessing a swimming pool without their caregiver’s awareness. Properly installed and maintained fencing on all four sides of a swimming pool and a self-closing/self-latching gate system will greatly reduce the incidents of unintentional drowning by keeping children out of harm’s way.

Failure to wear a life jacket – Of the boating deaths caused by drowning, 88% of the victims were not wearing life jackets. If you can’t swim this should be a simple decision, unfortunately, not the case. Life jackets are not “One Size Fits All”. Ensure children are properly fitted for the life jacket they wear. Also remember blow-up devices are toys, not life saving devices, particularly inflatable water wings and life rings.

Alcohol use is a major contributor to drowning – Among adolescents and adults, Hospital Emergency Department statistics show that alcohol is involved in 70% of deaths associated with water recreation and one in five boating deaths are influenced by alcohol. The use of alcohol is proven to affect balance, coordination and judgment; the effects of alcohol are also heightened by sun exposure and heat, which are synonymous with spending time in the water.

With a firm understanding of the factors involved in an unintentional drowning, we can create a personal strategy in preventing these very tragic situations. As I have spoken in recent writings and have practiced throughout a 38-year career as a first-responder; I believe in the “Power of Prevention”. I offer these timely preventive tips as food-for-thought the next time you are enjoying the water with family and friends. With the exception of purchasing required equipment, such as fencing, gates, throw rings and life jackets, the following tips basically require thought and concentration. I leave you with two sets of drown prevention tips for your water fun. The first set is pool specific and are defined by the acronym SWIM SAFE. The second list is targeted more to the boating world and share many similarities to the SWIM SAFE program.


Supervision is a must, especially when children are in the water. Whether in the pool, hot tub, lake, river or ocean, there should be a designated “Child Watcher”. Their sole reasonability is monitoring the activity in the water; which does not include talking on the phone, texting, posting or web surfing. Following this simple task alone, could easily reduce unintentional drowning by 75%.

Water levels in swimming pools should be no less the 5 inches from the pool top. In the event a child (or adult) falls in a pool and are able to float for a few seconds, they will be able to reach the top side of the swimming pool. This action will allow them to hold on to the pool side and call for help or escape.

Insist the fence gate to your swimming pool enclosure is self-closing and self-latching. You should also place a locking mechanism on the gate and make sure it is secure when the swimming pool is not in use. Check with your local Building Official for all the stipulations and requirements for the gate and fence.

Make sure the pool is equipped with a life-saving device, such as throw-rings, sheppard-hooks and throw-bags. Make sure you are well-practiced with their use and limitations, so you are fully prepared in the event of a water emergency.
Store all pool toys, balls and floats away from the pool when not in use. It is a great practice to remove everything from the swimming pool at the end of the day. When left in the pool, these items are inviting, especially to smaller children.
Always have a telephone at poolside, so you are able to call for help in the case of an emergency. The quicker you can summon emergency responders to your location and transport the drowning victim to a hospital, the greater you improve their chance of survival.

Fencing (a barrier) at least 48 inches above grade should surround the entire pool area, according to the Virginia Residential Code. This includes in-ground, above-ground and on-ground swimming pools, as well as hot tubs and spas that contains water over 24 inches deep.

Everyone should learn to perform CPR. The victim of a drowning incident who is immediately removed from the water and given CPR has a much greater chance of survival. Remember to have someone immediately call 9-1-1 and utilize an Automated External Defibrillator if available. Check with your local Rescue Squad, Fire Department or the Red Cross to locate a CPR class in your jurisdiction.


In addition to the many SWIM SAFE tips, please take the time to follow these additional time-tested safety tips specific to your boat and personal water craft.

A little education goes a long way and if you are operating a boat or personal water craft in Virginia. You must complete the course work to obtain a Boater Education Card. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, all personal water craft operators and motorboat operators, regardless of age, shall meet the requirements by July 1, 2016.

Your boat is required to be equipped with a set list of safety equipment, which varies according the type, length and power source for the boat. Just as important, you should know how to effectively use the same equipment. Items such as throw bags and Global Position Satellite devices can be complicated to use, particularly if you are taking them out of the package for the first time in the middle of a crisis. Additional information on required safety equipment and the Boater Education Course can be located on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website.

Life jackets worn by a child or anyone who cannot swim must be wearer specific and fitted for each individual. Make the small investment in purchasing personal life jackets specifically fitted for these individuals and insist they wear them.
Take the time before your boating trip to look at current and future weather reports, as well as knowing what the tides cycles are where you will be boating. Utilize technology to keep up with the weather through your VHF radio, a weather radio or smart phone weather apps.

Know the water depths before diving off of a boat, particularly in murky water. A two minute test swim in the area will help ensure the water is deep enough. This small time investment can prevent a tragic spinal cord injury caused by striking a shallow bottom.

Notify a relative or friend and give them your basic itinerary and course or leave a copy in your vehicle, to ensure someone is aware of the general area you plan to travel. Let them know you have returned home safely as well.

Stock a well-supplied first-aid kit on your boat, in the event of a minor injury. Band-aids, gauze, tape, sterile
dressings and wound cleaning solution will go a long way for many emergencies.

Determine the emergency numbers for your boating area and keep them on your boat. If your boat is equipped with a VHS Radio, Channel 16 is the hailing and emergency channel for the U. S. Coast Guard. If you will be in areas where cell coverage is available, program the emergency numbers into your cell phone. If a VHS Radio is available, that should be your first choice to report the emergency.

The Skipper had Gilligan, you should have a First Mate as well. Take the time to properly train a First Mate on your boat, in the event of an emergency of an injury or illness to the Captain. Skills including proper boat operations, safety procedures, basic navigation and emergency radio procedures and the use of safety equipment should all be taught to the First Mate.

I leave you with one last bit of advice “A little common sense goes a long way”. Always be prepared for what could happen and react accordingly. These safety tips are nothing more than common sense thinking. They are very easy, and in many cases, free to implement and can make a day on the water or in the pool much more enjoyable. A safe and happy summer and swimming season to you, your family and your friends; see you on the River. BE SAFE.