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July 24, 2012, Tuesday

Increasing Water safety

As the oppressive summer heat beats down upon us all, the rivers and seasides look even more inviting than usual.

However, as often happens, there are tragedies that occur while swimming or cooling off near water. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to swim, yet they are tempted by the refreshing-looking water to hop in and cool off. The result can be disastrous, as noted in several recent news stories from across the country.

It is estimated that over 900 people die by drowning every year in Turkey. The number of drowning incidents is expected to rise as the summer continues to heat up. Municipalities are trying to establish preventative measures, such as posting warning notices about riptides, posting more lifeguards at pools and beaches, increasing the number of jet skis available for lifeguards and offering free swimming courses. However, responsibility ultimately lies with each individual. For families who live near water or who are planning on a vacation to a lake or seaside, it is important that every member of the family know how to swim. As parents know, children are attracted to water, and so it is vitally important that children understand they cannot go into deep water without an adult with them. If they do not know how to swim, or are not strong swimmers, they should be kept in shallow water, where they are able to walk out under their own power.

Each swimmer should know their limits. Many swimmers who end up in trouble do so because they overestimate their own abilities, imagining they are stronger swimmers than they actually are, often showing off for friends. Inexperienced swimmers should stay in shallow waters. Even strong swimmers should not swim alone. Always have at least one other person with you when swimming in case of sudden cramping or a change in tides. Never swim where there are warning signs about currents and undertows.

In spite of potential dangers, swimming is a fantastic way to spend the day. Who does not relish the thought of sitting under an umbrella on a sandy beach, taking refreshing dips in the cool, sparkling water to cool off? To make a day at the beach go as smoothly as possible, here are some water safety points to keep in mind.

First of all, designate one person to stay on the shore and keep an eye on those swimming and playing on the shore, even if there is a lifeguard on duty. Obviously, if there are several young children in the water at one time, there should be more than one watcher. Watching means just that -- not distracted by chatting on the phone or reading a book.

Before diving into water, always walk into the water to check the depth. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble when diving in shallow water. Even areas where you have swum before can change as sands and silt shift over time. Diving into water that is too shallow can result in serious head and neck trauma, or even death.

Know how to deal with rip currents. Rip currents, or riptides, are fast-moving ocean currents that can quickly drag swimmers out into open water. Inexperienced swimmers are especially at risk, but even strong swimmers can panic when caught in a rip current. The best tactic is not to fight the current. Instead of thrashing about, try to relax and tread water or float until you are out of the current and then swim to the shore.

When an emergency strikes, everyone should know what to do. A person can drown quickly -- it can take as little as 20 seconds for children and 60 seconds for an adult to drown. That leaves very little time to get help to them. The majority of drowning incidents occur within 10 feet of safety and within 50 feet of shore. In case of an emergency, immediately notify a lifeguard if there is one present. Know basic water rescue techniques. Unless you are a strong swimmer, do not enter the water to try to save someone. If a person is in danger of drowning, know how to safely get them out of the water without endangering your own life, using the reach, throw, row and go method. Once the victim is ashore, call for emergency medical attention. Administer CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) if necessary until help arrives.

While I do not mean to sound overly protective or alarmist, there are ways that parents can avoid drowning tragedies such as the ones that keep making the headlines. All children, as well as parents, need to learn how to swim as early as possible. They should also understand that it is dangerous for anyone to go swimming alone in case there is an emergency. As temperatures continue to rise, lakes, ponds and oceans will keep drawing people to the shore, hoping to cool off. By being aware and following these safety tips, lives can be saved.

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