Tuesday, June 9, 2015

5 Tips for Water Safety in Washington

With the recent increase in temperature around the Pacific Northwest, families have been flocking to the water to cool off. With more and more traffic to Washington's water bodies, it is more important than ever to consider safety before heading to the lake, river, beach or pool.

Safety Tip 1: Always swim with a partner, every time — whether you're swimming in a backyard pool or in a lake. Even experienced swimmers can become tired or get muscle cramps, which might make it difficult to get out of the water. When people swim together, they can help each other or go for help in case of an emergency.

Safety Tip 2: Know your limits. Swimming can be a lot of fun — and you might want to stay in the water as long as possible. If you're not a good swimmer or you're just learning to swim, don't go in water that's so deep you can't touch the bottom and don't try to keep up with skilled swimmers. That can be hard, especially when your friends are challenging you — but it's a pretty sure bet they'd rather have you safe and alive.

Safety Tip 3: Swim in safe areas only. Swimming in an open body of water (like a river, lake, or ocean) is different from swimming in a pool. You need more energy to handle the currents and other changing conditions in the open water.

If you do find yourself caught in a current: 
  • don't panic
  • don't fight the current
  • try to swim parallel to the shore until you are able to get out of the current
  • gradually try to make your way back to shore 
  • if you are unable to get to shore, stay calm and float with the current--the current will usually slow down, then you can swim to shore.
Some areas with extremely strong currents are off limits when it comes to swimming. Do your research so you know where not to swim, and pay attention to any warning signs posted in the area.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has a consistently updated webpage indicating which popular swimming areas (on the coast and around the Puget Sound) are safe for swimming and which areas are closed for a variety of reasons.

The WA State Department of Ecology's coastal atlas with beach closures and cautions.

Safety Tip 4: Consider the season

According to the Washington State Department of Health, at any time of year, WA waters can be appealing and dangerous at the same time:
  • Spring – Rivers are often high and swift from rains and snow melt and can easily overwhelm the strongest swimmer. Even on hot spring days, lakes, ponds, and rivers are still cold and are dangerous for swimmers. Hypothermia can occur quickly in very cold water.
  • Summer – Water that is warm on the surface, may be much colder below. Use caution when swimming and always supervise young children playing in or near the water. Rivers may not be moving as fast, but log jams can trap swimmers and large rocks and logs could tip over rafts, canoes, and kayaks. Illnesses can be prevented by not swallowing the water – learn more about recreational water illnesses.
  • Autumn – Early warm days of autumn can be like summer. But like spring, this time of year is unpredictable - be prepared for sudden weather changes and cold water later in the season.
  • Winter – Waters are always cold and can quickly go from being very calm to very rough, especially during storms. If you are on the water for hunting, fishing, or recreation, wear protective gear and life jackets. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, and be prepared for sudden weather changes.
*Pay special attention to the Spring and Summer pointers as we are currently experiencing warmer than usual temperatures in this state!

Safety Tip 5: Remember to wear a life jacket. According to the Washington State Department of Health, even the best water enthusiasts can misjudge changing water conditions when boating or swimming in open water. Be prepared at all times by wearing a life jacket – you'll never know when you'll be tossed into the water.
  • Have children wear a life jacket that fits them, and watch them closely around water – they can go under water quickly and quietly.
  • Children 12 years old and under must wear a life jacket that fits them on moving boats less than 19 feet in length in Washington.
  • Recreational boats must carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard. The life jacket must be available and accessible. This is a nationwide Coast Guard rule.
The Seattle Children's Hospital webpage devoted to Water Safety and Drowning Prevention offers a lot of interesting and essential resources on water safety--many including the importance of wearing a life jacket. Some of the resources featured on that page are as follows:

Life Jacket Affordability:
Learn more about life jackets and get a coupon (PDF) good for 25% off the regular price of any life jacket in stock at Big 5 Sporting Goods stores in Washington and northern Idaho. The coupon is valid through September 30, 2015.

Life Jacket Loaner Programs: 
These provide opportunities for families and friends to borrow life jackets at boating ramps, bathing beaches and other locations. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Boating Program, the Department of Health, Safe Kids and Seattle Children's partner to provide a list of life jacket loaner programs, with the goal of preventing drownings in Washington state. Wearing a life jacket while swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans, and while boating is important for your safety and the safety of your children, family, and friends.
Beyond life jackets, the Seattle Children's hospital notes an important resource for families with unique needs. 

Everyone Swims:
"Everyone Swims" is a partnership to increase access to swimming and water recreation among culturally diverse and low-income families in Seattle and King County, Washington. Over 20 different pools, water recreation organizations and community health clinics are working on developing policy and system changes related to swimming scholarships; swim ability screening; referral to swimming and water recreation programs; and special swim programs for children and families with unique needs. Learn more about this project and how you can improve access to swimming and water recreation safety.

For more information about water safety, read a recent article on drowning where Dr. Linda Quan of the Seattle Children's Hospital is referenced.

Water safety tips for this post are courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Seattle Children's Hospital and Dr Yamini Durani, MD.

1 comment:

Melody Stroud said...

Thank you for the great information, I will be sharing it with my class and parents.