Tips on how to stay safe in waterBy Becky Robinson | 07/02/2013 11:00pm
The key to any fun, summer day on the water is safety. Brian Bartlett, a junior mechanical engineering major and president of the Alabama Kayak Club, and David Scott, a Ph.D. student in interdisciplinary studies, explain the importance of keeping yourself out of harm’s way. Scott is also involved in the new group SwimSafe@UA, which is “designed to reduce the incidence of drowning-related fatalities.”
Crimson White: How are lakes and rivers more dangerous than pools?
BB: There are both physical and situational differences between being on a river or lake and swimming in a pool. A pool, which is a controlled environment that is designed to allow swimmers to recreate safely, is vastly different than natural waters where there are many uncontrollable variables such as current and underwater obstructions. The less obvious dangers of a lake or river are related to their remoteness. Emergency services could arrive at a pool in minutes, as opposed to the outdoors where a minor incident could escalate into a life-threatening situation with the lack of immediate professional attention.
DS: Everyone, even an accomplished swimmer, is susceptible to drowning. Anyone can drown, and people can and do drown in as little as 30 millimeters of water. Drowning is a global phenomenon. Drowning is universal to all racial and ethnic groups but affects each group differentially. The good news in all of this research is that there are local and national programs out there promoting a safe swimming agenda, and these programs can and do make a difference.
CW: What are simple things everyone can do to protect himself or herself when they go out on the water?
BB: There are few things that anyone looking to get on a river must do. The first step is to do your research. Knowledge of the river and its hazards is imperative for a safe and successful adventure. The next step is to formulate a competent crew. You want to be sure that everyone in the group is of appropriate skill level as well as demonstrates the physical and mental dexterity needed in order to participate in the activity. No matter how simple your aquatic excursion may be, always have a plan. Part of that plan is to establish a group leader, usually the person with the most experience and/or familiarity with the location. Another very important, but often overlooked step, is to factor in the conditions. Checking the weather and the river level are the first things that I do before planning a trip on a river.
DS: The first thing the entire Capstone community can do is to read and heed the ‘10 Water Safety Rules’ of the International Water Safety Day (May 15). Basic swimming lessons are offered as a part of the comprehensive set of University Recreation programs available to every student each semester at the Capstone. All students should consider taking them.
CW: What are the most common injuries related to water sports and activities?
BB: The most common minor injuries on the water are very similar to being on land. Simple lacerations and bruises may result from scraping your knees on rocks while floating downstream, just as you may suspect. More serious and potentially fatal situations can occur when people come into contact with hydraulics, sieves, strainers and foot entrapments. A hydraulic occurs when water flows over a rock or ledge and circulates vertically. Strainers are commonly caused by fallen trees in the water. Even with low flow, the complex network of branches can trap boats and swimmers both above and below water. Foot entrapment occurs when a swimmer attempts to stand up in moving water and their foot becomes wedged into a tree or rock. This is a very dangerous situation and can easily be avoided by never attempting standing up in moving water more than knee deep.
DS: Students, especially undergraduates, should strive to avoid those factors that increase the risk of drowning including swimming and drinking, boating and drinking, and reckless horseplay and associated foolishness in and near the water. Finally, all of us should avoid making blanket and/or prejudiced assumptions about who is or who is not a strong swimmer and stop stigmatizing those whose swimming skills might not yet be fully developed. Everyone, with positive encouragement, can learn how to swim.