As we enjoy the hot and long mid-summer days, there are only a few things more enjoyable than a dip in the ocean. But that does not mean taking unnecessary risks when trying to cool off. Swimming in the ocean can be dangerous, and can lead to drowning, especially if you do it alone and with no lifeguards on duty. According to the CDC, drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid. While not all drownings are fatal- many are. For children ages 1–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death. While children are at the highest risk, anyone can drown. Every year in the United States there are an estimated average of 11 fatal unintentional drowning deaths; and an average of 22 nonfatal drownings per day. These statistics include open, water, pool, boat-related and other submersion events.
Most drowning events are preventable
The key to reduce drownings includes prevention, recognition and action. Prevention is paramount. Our Beach patrol does an excellent job in keeping our shores safe. According to the Herald statistics last week alone the Long Beach Lifeguard Beach Patrol did 15,000 preventative actions, and didn’t have a single drowning with lifeguards on duty. While lifeguards are known as lifesavers, a main role is to patrol the water and prevent the need for rescues. They are specifically trained to be proactive and to spot impending dangerous conditions. That is why it is so important to only swim in the ocean when lifeguards are on duty. Even a strong swimmer, can be overtaken by open water conditions.
Learn to swim and teach your children how to swim and water safety
Never swim alone or when impaired, if you enter distress, there is no one to raise the alarm.
Never swim in open water without a lifeguard and always listen to their instructions.
What an active drowning victim looks like
Indicators of dangerous water
When to not enter the water (people often drown trying to assist others)
Know how to safely assist or call for assistance
Practice “Reach-Throw- Row- Go”
According to NOAA, Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches. They typically form at breaks in sandbars, near structures such as jetties and piers. Their speeds can vary on average from 1-2 feet per second, or as much as 8 feet per second. They don’t pull people under the water — they pull people away from shore. They are dangerous because when people are swiftly pulled away from shore to deeper water, they often panic or fight it, leading to drowning. Even strong swimmers can be swept out. They account for 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
What are some signs that a rip current may be present?
A channel of churning, choppy water
A difference in water color
A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.
What if I’m caught in a rip current?
If you feel in trouble, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help.
Stay calm and don’t fight the current.
Escape by swimming in a direction parallel to the shoreline, if you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When free of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore.
How do I help someone else?
Don’t become a victim while trying to help someone else! Many people have died from that. Get help from a lifeguard. If none are present, yell instructions on how to escape. If possible, throw the victim something that floats, and call for emergency assistance.
What is ‘Reach, Throw, Row, Go’
Reach — using a long poll or stick; lay down on a firm surface to limit being pulled in. Throw a flotation device for the person to grab, if a rope is attached pull the person in. Row- if near a boat or kayak and the person is too far to reach or throw. Go -swimming should be the last resort. Drowning victims often thrash wildly and pose hazards to their rescuers. They may attempt to climb the rescuer, bringing you underwater. Only trained and equipped should attempt.
Water quality complications
There is a difference between salt water and fresh water in near-drowning situations. When taken into the lungs, all water has the effect of washing out surfactant, the thin coating inside of the lungs. That loss creates breathing problems. Signs and symptoms include shortness of breath and wheezing. Because of its high salt content, seawater can affect the body differently from freshwater. Even if you think you have removed all the seawater from the lungs, salt may still remain. In the body, water follows salt and the lungs will start to fill with water and swell. Fresh and pool water has contaminants and chemicals and can also lead to lung issues.
Remember to only swim in the ocean with lifeguards on duty, and help prevent drowning tragedies.
Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at SPinto@iaff287.org.