Water safety tips: Swim and boat safely this summer

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Neon swimsuits are the most visible underwater, according to a consulting and education firm focusing on aquatic safety. (Getty Images)

(WHTM) — The first day of summer is less than two weeks away, and the hot summer temperatures are already here. If you’re eager to get into the water and cool off, there are some important things to keep in mind to make sure you’re enjoying the water safely.

Swimming Safety

You may be ready to dive into summer, but if you want your season to go swimmingly, practicing proper diving safety is one way to prevent injury. Dr. Daniel Wu, a trauma surgeon at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, explains that diving is the fourth most common cause of spinal cord injury in men and the fifth most common cause of spinal cord injury in women.

Here are some tips from Wu for safe diving:

1. Don’t dive into shallow water: Experts recommend that a body of water have a depth of at least 9 feet for safe head-first diving, Wu explains. For any location where the depth is less than 9 feet or where you don’t know the depth, you should jump in feet first. The 9-foot depth recommendation is the same for individuals of all heights, including children, Wu notes.

2. Know your abilities: Wu says that many diving injuries aren’t the result of typical dives. Instead, he says, many are the result of people trying new tricks or showing off.

3. Don’t drink and dive: Alcohol can impair judgment, so you may think you’re safe when you’re actually not, says Wu. According to Wu’s article “Diving: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into to Prevent Injury“, alcohol consumption is involved in more than half of all diving incidents.

With its numerous creeks, rivers, lakes, and pools, there are lots of opportunities to get into the water in Pennsylvania. Wu offers these recommendations for swimming safely this summer:

1. Supervise children: Wu encourages adult supervision at pools to help prevent injury. According to the CDC, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S., and approximately one in five people who die from drowning are 14 years old or younger.

2. Know the signs of drowning: Drowning doesn’t look like it does in the movies, warns Wu. Individuals who are drowning don’t splash and yell, he says. Instead, they are quiet because their head and arms aren’t above the water. Swimming with or near someone who knows CPR can help prevent fatalities, notes Wu.

3. Know the signs of secondary drowning: This rare ailment is caused by water entering the lungs and triggering an inflammatory response that causes the lungs to further fill with fluid. This can be fatal if left untreated, but individuals who receive medical treatment usually recover without much issue, says Wu. Signs of secondary drowning include fatigue, difficulty breathing, coughing, or turning blue.

Boating safety

The National Marine Manufacturers Association reports that powerboat sales in the U.S. reached a 13-year high in 2020 with a 12% increase in powerboat sales compared to 2019. The NMMA expects this trend to continue in 2021 as manufacturers fill a backlog of orders from last year.

Both new and experienced boaters can follow these recommendations from Wu and Adam Spangler, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission boating safety education specialist, to safely enjoy some time on the water this summer:

1. Use a life jacket (that fits): Spangler says your life jacket should be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, and it should fit properly. Life jackets that don’t fit correctly may not protect you, and they could even hinder your ability to stay afloat, warns Wu. Everyone on a boat is required to have a life jacket on board. Life jackets should be worn by all boaters under the age of 12 as well as on all canoes and kayaks.

2. Bring a noise-producing device: Boaters are required to have a sound-producing device like a whistle with them on the water. Spangler recommends attaching a whistle to your life jacket to keep it handy.

3. Know how to operate your boat: If you’re learning how to operate a new boat or how to paddle a kayak for the first time, Spangler recommends preparing before going out on the water and getting some practice near the shore. He notes that everyone paddles a little differently, so it may take some time to figure out your technique.

4. Plan ahead and know your route: Spangler encourages boaters to plan their routes before getting out on the water, keeping an eye out for potential hazards like dams or downed trees. Information about water trails in Pennsylvania can be found on the Fish and Boat Commission’s website. If there is a potential for inclement weather, boaters should be aware of safe locations to leave the water.

5. Tell someone where you’re going: Let others know where you plan to go and when you plan to be back so they can help make sure you return safely, says Spangler.

6. Care for your boat: Cleaning your boat after you return to shore can help prevent the spread of organisms from one body of water to another, but it’s also a great opportunity to check the hull of the boat for scrapes or cracks, Spangler says.

7. Use the Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) link: The ECOS link is a device that can be attached to a boat operator and will cause the vessel’s engine to turn off if the operator leaves the operating area. A law that went into effect on April 1 requires boat operators to wear this ECOS link. Wu explains that wearing the device helps prevent propeller strike injuries, which are often fatal if the operator falls out of the boat.

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