With summer here, cottages are once again occupied, boats are used and families go the beach for a day or to enjoy their summer vacation. Lakes, beaches, streams and oceans all hold a universal appeal for water lovers. Unfortunately, they are also the perfect setting for accidents or injury. If caution is forgotten, drownings can result.
To prepare for the outdoor season and enjoy summer to the fullest, recognize the potential for injury and take steps now to avoid accidents. One of the first things you can do is check your favourite waterfront for changes which may have taken place during the winter months.
Thoroughly clean up the area to remove winter debris. Include a check of the water area for garbage such as broken bottles, tin cans and plastic containers at the water’s edge. Check the new growth of weeds, the location of submerged rocks, the drop-offs and depth – all can be new dangers for bathers, especially children.
Remember that chest deep water for adults is over the heads of small children. As a further safety precaution, consider marking the limits of a ‘safe’ swimming area and teach children not to go beyond that point.
Consider placing safety equipment around your lakefront or recreational area. A simple length of rope kept near the dock or water’s edge can be an invaluable reaching assist for someone in trouble in the water. Paddle boards, ring buoys or inner tubes could also be used. Make sure your waterfront has access to first aid equipment – a well stocked first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent are musts. Include blankets to treat exposure to cold, another potential killer.
Write down local emergency numbers, the location of the nearest telephone and emergency help. Such knowledge can be vital during an emergency when time is of the essence.
When was the last time your boat or small craft was checked? Remember motor boats need running lights in good working order and should be equipped with a fire extinguisher, paddles and, most important, life jackets. Look around your dock or mooring area: loose boards or protruding nails are hard on feet and even dangerous.
Use common sense when dealing with the outdoors to reduce or eliminate dangerous situations. For example, if the weather looks bad or a storm is about to hit, it’s smart to stay ashore. If you are out in the water, get to a point of safety. Exposure to poor weather can make you tire quickly and a fall into cold waters like those found in western lakes can cause life-threatening hypothermia (lowering of body temperature). Avoiding such a situation is the best remedy.
When you are enjoying the waterfront or summer cottage, you must supervise children at all times. As a parent, there are few things more frightening than to lose track of your child near the water. When buying a bathing suit this year, look for bright colours. Remember, dark colours are difficult to spot, especially in the murky waters found in many lakes. The time-honoured buddy system is still an effective way to reduce risk for both children and adults.
Inflatable toys, inner tubes and rafts all provide hours of enjoyment. However, inflatable equipment can lure any swimmer, whether young or old, into deep water and away from shore. A sudden wave, a puncture or a shift in balance can lead to an unexpected encounter with deep water and a shore-line which is too far to reach. The results can be disastrous. Swim within your own physical abilities.
Safety-conscious swimmers stay parallel to shore in chest-deep water and are aware of how tired they are. After long winter months without exercise, you may have less endurance than you think. Avoid using alcohol and make sure you are within easy sight of someone on shore or motor boat operators.
As statistics clearly demonstrate, a major factor in a number of drownings is the improper use or lack of a life jacket. It cannot be over-emphasized that life jackets or personal flotation devices are essential for adults who will be on or in water more than chest deep. Children should always wear them, even when playing near the water. Life jackets will support the swimmer in an upright position when worn properly and they help conserve body heat if there is sudden exposure to cold water.
Finally, in preparation for summer, think about improving your own personal swimming skills and abilities. Every organized municipal swimming pool offers classes for a variety of swimming abilities. Similarly, most organized waterfronts will offer a swimming instructional program. Specific instruction is available through the Lifesaving Society of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross and at most swimming pools and lakefronts. Contact these and enroll in the life-saving program of your choice.
Special programs to teach Aquatic Emergency Care can be taken by parents who wish to learn special first aid techniques, for use around waterfronts, lakes and recreation areas. Personal rescue concepts and new swimming skills are included in the Lifesaving I, II and III swimming programs.
For those interested in improving their physical fitness, the Lifesaving Society offers water-oriented fitness awards at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. Special courses are also available to teach boat and scuba rescue. For those who wish to become familiar with more advanced lifesaving skills and learn how to physically tow a drowning person to safety, classes in Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross or National Lifeguard Service awards are available throughout the country.
Every year there are more personal watercrafts used in our waterways. While they are fun and exciting to ride, PWCs are frequently operated in areas too close to shore and other larger boats, are driven too fast (speeds in excess of 100 km/hr) and turned too suddenly. As a result, the number of serious injuries to Canadians, especially from increased PWC ridership by teens and even children, has risen.
In response to this alarming situation, two years ago the Government of Canada introduced a marine pleasure craft operator education and licensing program. The competency of operators of pleasure craft regulations (1999) makes it illegal for someone under 16 years to operate PWCs. As of 1999, it also requires everyone under 16 years old to have passed a test and have a pleasure craft operator cards in order to operate a boat. This regulation is gradually being extended to all individuals; by 2009 everyone who wishes to operate a boat or PWC will be required to have a pleasure craft operators card.
For more information, inquire at your local registry outlet or check the Canadian Coast Guard web site.
Training and knowledge can help prevent tragedy and give you valuable information to safeguard you and your family. A healthy respect for the water will ensure fun-filled days. Use common sense and prepare now for your water wise summer.