Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Drowing Prevention

Drowning is a tragedy that disproportionately affects the young. There was a poignant article in the Wall Street Journal on August 16, 2012, by Douglas Belkin that pointed out that drowning events appear to be more frequent than usual this summer, perhaps attributable to the prolonged heat wave in the U.S. This makes sense, because it’s a numbers game – the more people in the water, the more likely there will be accidents.

The article points out the increased risk, but there is no mention of prevention techniques. In this forum, I have written about this before, but it bears repeating – prevention is the name of the game with drowning. Here is safety advice from the experts about how to avoid drowning events:

1.  Watch your children. Toddlers are at greatest risk for drowning. Never leave small children unsupervised near water in which they might drown.

2.  Fence in all pools and swimming areas. Maintain the water level in a pool as high as possible to allow a person who reaches the edge to pull himself out.

3.  Teach children to swim, but be advised that such teaching does not “drown-proof” a child. In other words, never let a small child out of your sight when he or she is near the water, even if they know how to swim. In a drowning situation, they may not have the body strength, judgment, or emotional reserve to allow self rescue. Furthermore, new swimmers and children may have a false sense of security and take undue risks after being taught how to swim.

4.  Inflatable donuts, water wings, and pool rafts are not sufficiently effective safety devices to allow adults to leave children unsupervised.

5.  Never place nonswimmers in high-risk situations: small sailboats, whitewater rafts, inflatable kayaks, and the like. Do not allow nonswimmers to operate jet-skis.

6.  In times of high surf and dangerous currents, stay out of the water. Know how to exit a rip tide.

7.  When boating or rafting, always wear a properly rated life vest with a snug fit and a head flotation collar. In a kayak or raft traversing whitewater, wear a proper helmet.

8.  Do not mix alcohol and water sports.

9.  Know your limits. Feats of endurance and demonstrations of bravado in dangerous rapids or surf are for idiots.

10. Be prepared for a flash flood. In times of unusually heavy rainfall, stay away from natural streambeds, arroyos, and other drainage channels. Use a map to determine your elevation, and stay off low ground or the very bottom of a hill. Know where the high ground is and how to get there in a hurry. Absolutely avoid flooded areas and unnecessary stream and river crossings. Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream where the water is above your knees. Abandon a stalled vehicle in a flood area.



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Tags: In the Water

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.