Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Time for another safety check among all us kayakers and general seashore and boating enthusiasts. Who knows how to swim? That's a good start.
Who has taken a water safety course and has some idea how to rescue a drowning person? Aha. Thought so. And if ya took a course, how long ago was it?
How about we take a moment and read the article that gave this blog post the thought-provoking title Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning, written by Mario Vittone.
That article sure made me think. I took Red Cross swimming lessons for years. I started lifeguard training, though I didn't get a certificate. But when I pulled my five-year-old son back up to the surface of a lake without dropping his twin sister, it became really clear to me that keeping people safe around water is not a piece of cake.
Water Safety Is Hard, Dammitt!
Kids fall into the water without any warning and often not even a splash or shout.
People who are drowning are often quiet and struggle a lot less than you'd think. Well, they might not look like they're struggling till they get a grip on a rescuer and climb up him or her to stand on the rescuer's head.
And just in case you need some motivation, it's a grim fact that most people who drown are within a few yards of a dock or beach. Most children who drown are within a few yards of adults. Most of the people who drown while out in a small boat have a life jacket or PFD, but it's stuffed behind the seat instead of being worn.
It's not enough to be the smart kayaker who wears a PFD and knows how to swim. If you're ever the one who DOES see someone drowning, let's hope you know enough not to come alongside and grab the person's hand. Panic makes drowning people strong and desperate.
I hope that I'd be a calm enough rescuer to remember that there's a paddle float on my kayak's back deck. And there's a rope in a throw bag on the front deck.
A paddle float could make a good flotation device! It has almost as much lift as a PFD, and loops on both ends to grip. During safety practice in Thetis Lake, I've floated around holding onto my paddle float from North Water. We figured then that if we ever had to tow a swimmer to shore with a rope, it would be a good idea to clip two paddle floats together and let the swimmer use this float. We know that the cold water where we paddle makes a swimmer numb in minutes, so usually the best idea is to get a kayaker out of the water and back into his or her boat. We're just noticing how we react when we dunk ourselves. It's fun to feel smart and in practise. And maybe we'll be ready if an emergency happens.

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