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.See all posts »
Prevention of Submersion (Near-Drowning) Incidents
As we approach summer, more people, particularly youths, will be in the water, in the wilderness, and in resort and urban locations. Swimming is an essential part of summer camps, trips to the coast, floating down rivers, kayaking, scuba diving – indeed, much of life at the beach, at the lake, and in the pool. Sadly, there will be many avoidable and unavoidable accidents, and victims will be submersed and drown.
Many factors contribute to submersion incidents. These include poor judgment, inability to swim, fatigue in rough waters, panic, drug and alcohol abuse, and many others. Surprisingly, what is not so well known by the general public or consistently promulgated are the rules and suggestions by which submersion incidents might be avoided. The following is advice for anyone who is going to be near the water or who is responsible for others who will be vulnerable to a submersion episode:
1. Learn to swim. This is most important for children and teenagers, who are frequently in the water and often place themselves in precarious situations. It is also important for adults, particularly those who may need to self-rescue, such as surf swimmers, scuba divers, and river rafters. However, do not let swimming lessons create a false sense of security, particularly with children. Small children who learn to swim do not necessarily have the physical strength and decision-making abilities to support themselves in a critical rescue situation. If you would supervise a child who doesn’t know how to swim, continue to supervise him or her if they do know how to swim. Toddlers are at greatest risk for near-drowning.
2. Do not tolerate horseplay in or around the water. This includes diving from heights into shallow water or water of unknown depth.
3. Avoid solo swimming; use the buddy system, so that someone is always on the alert to help a companion in need.
4. It is never safe to cross thin ice; one should be particularly careful during the spring thaw.
5. Alcohol and recreational drugs have no place anywhere near the water. It takes only a brief lapse of common sense to ruin a person’s life forever.
6. Surround all pools and swimming areas, where possible, with fences. Maintain the water level in a pool as high as possible (e.g., close to the ground surface) to allow a person who reaches the edge to pull himself out.
7. Never place non-swimmers in high-risk situations: small sailboats, whitewater rafts, inflatable kayaks, and the like.
8. When boating or rafting, always wear a properly rated life vest (jacket) with a snug fit and a head flotation collar.
9. In a kayak or raft traversing whitewater, wear a proper helmet.
10. Know your limits. Feats of endurance and demonstrations of bravado in dangerous rapids or surf are foolhardy.
11. Learn how to properly cross flowing streams of natural water. Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream where the water is above your knees.
12. 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 the location of high ground and how to get there in a hurry. Absolutely avoid flooded areas and unnecessary stream and river crossings.
13. Abandon a stalled vehicle in a flood area.
photo by John Mickey
Tags: submersion incident, drowning, near-drowning, prevention, physician, health, wilderness medicine, outdoor medicine, healthline
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