Water Safety & Drowning Prevention

Staying Safe in the Water

Water activities are a big part of the summer months in Summit County. Water play can be great for fun and fitness, however it takes planning ahead and using good judgment to stay safe.

To be safe, you need to think about:
• Water conditions
• Your own limits
• Use of safety gear like life jackets.

Drowning can happen swiftly and silently. It is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children age 1 through 14 years. Among children 1-4 years drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death.

Childhood drowning and near-drowning can happen in a matter of seconds and typically occur when a child is left unattended or during a brief lapse in supervision. Nine out of 10 drownings occur in lakes or pools and most were within a few feet of safety. Most drowning victims had access to a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), but did not wear it. A wearable PFD can save your life – if you wear it.

Drowning Prevention Tips

  • Constantly supervise children. Adults should take turns being designated water watchers to supervise children near or in the water.
  • Teach your child to wait for permission before getting in the water.
  • Don’t expect a lifeguard to supervise your child.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Know how to swim.
  • Enforce and model all water safety rules, including no running on pool decks.
  • Locate life jackets and safety devices. Never use inflatable water toys as life preservers or substitutes for supervision.
  • Keep hair away from suction drain covers in spas, hot tubs and whirlpools.
  • Always check water depth before jumping or diving into water.
  • No alcohol. Alcohol and swimming are very dangerous. 

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Water Safety Rules

  • Learn how to swim!
  • Never swim alone!
  • Always have an adult “Water Watcher”
  • Don’t dive into shallow water.
  • No glass containers around a pool or spa area.
  • Keep all electrical appliances away from the pool or spa area. Don’t jump into the water to save someone who’s in trouble; throw a life ring or another flotation device to them to keep them afloat and call for help.
  • Learn your local emergency number (9-1-1) and keep a phone by the pool or spa.

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Cold Water and Hypothermia

The risk of falling overboard or capsizing may be small, but the threat-to-life of such accidents is most serious.

Falling in to cold water rapidly incapacitates and may kill boaters who are not wearing protective clothing. Surfers, sailboarders and river paddlers wear wet suits or dry suits when the water is cold. When you are out in cold water, these clothing precautions can improve your safety on the water.

What happens in cold water?

Cold water removes heat from the body 25 times faster than cold air. About 50% of that heat loss occurs through the head. Physical activity such as swimming, or other struggling in the water increases heat loss. Survival time can be reduced to minutes. Strong swimmers have died before swimming 100 yards in cold water. In water under 40 degrees F, victims have died before swimming 100 feet.

Cold Shock
  • Without a life jacket, a victim may inhale while under water (involuntary gasping) and drown without coming back to the surface. This can only be prevented by wearing a life jacket at all times on the water. There is no second chance.
  • Exposure of the head and chest to cold water causes sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure that may result in cardiac arrest.
  • Other responses to cold water immersion result in immediate loss of consciousness and drowning.
Once in the Water
  • Try to get back in or on your boat immediately.
  • Do not leave the boat.
  • If you are not wearing thermal protection and can not get out of the water, stay as still as possible. Fold arms, cross legs and float quietly on the buoyancy of your PFD until help arrives.
  • If two or more people are in the water, put your arms around one another. Stay still and close together.
Treatment of Hypothermia
  1. Mild hypothermia (victim shivering but coherent). Move the victim to a place of warmth. Remove their wet clothes. Give them warm, sweet drinks but no alcohol or caffeine. Keep victim warm for several hours.
  2. Moderate hypothermia (shivering may decrease or stop). Victim may seem irrational with deteriorating coordination. Treat the same as above but no drinks. Victim should be kept lying down with torso, thighs, head and neck covered with dry clothes, coats or blankets to stop further heat loss. Seek medical attention immediately.
  3. Severe hypothermia (shivering may have stopped. Victim may resist help or be semiconscious or unconscious). Removed from water, victim must be kept prone, on back and immobile. Victim must be handled gently. Cover torso, thighs, head and neck with dry covers to stop further heat loss. Arms and legs must not be stimulated in any manner. Cold blood in extremities, that suddenly returns to the core, may induce cardiac arrest. Seek medical attention immediately.
  4. Victim appears dead. Little or no breathing or pulse, body rigid. Assume victim can be revived. Look for faint pulse or breathing for 2 minutes. If any trace is found, do not give CPR. It can cause cardiac arrest. Medical help is imperative. If pulse and breathing are totally absent, CPR should be started by trained medical personnel.
Planning Ahead

Wear clothing that permits safe cold-water immersion and a life jacket. It is the only way to combat the risk posed by being out on cold water.

Wear woolen fabrics inside a waterproof barrier (shell) having neoprene or latex gaskets at ankles, waist, wrists and neck. Fleece-lined Polartec clothing is also another option and is comfortable under outer clothes.

Carry dry clothing in a water proof bag. Tie a bail bucket and paddle to your boat. Evaluate the flotation in your boat. A short sling tied to a stable part of the boat, with a foot rest in the loop, may assist boat reentry. Attach a whistle or horn to your life jacket.

Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Inform them of your return. Check the weather forecast for the day.

WATCH THE BOATS AROUND YOU. On cold water, you are depending on one another for prompt rescue in case of an accident.

Contact Us

Geri Essen – Health Promotion Director, Summit County Health Department

650 Round Valley Drive, Park City, UT 84060
Phone: 435-333-1505 Fax: 435-333-1580
gessen@summitcounty.org

Mandy Webb – Health Educator, Summit County Health Department

650 Round Valley Drive, Park City, UT 84060
Phone: 435-333-1508 Fax: 435-333-1580
mwebb@summitcounty.org

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