Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Too Good To Drown?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on October 2, 2013

Super Swimmers!I had an overwhelming and surprising response to last week’s blog about changing perceptions.  Not much argument about the need to change perceptions about capability in the water for minorities and women, but rather calling attention to the the lack of perception of danger by those who are already skilled and comfortable in the water.

Let’s hear what some of the experts (lifeguards, search and rescue professionals) had to say:

“…Competitors at swim meets don’t have to be watched…that is until one has an asthma attack, panic attack, anaphylactic shock from eating the wrong snack bar (with peanuts), hyperventilation, inhaling and choking on a stray bug. I’ve seen all of these, both as a guard and as a referee.”

“I see a lot of, “well lap swimmers don’t need to be guarded. They know how to swim.”

“After doing a career in a Search and Rescue centre, I can tell now that if you put a good swimmer and a non-swimmer in an open boat and make it capsized, the good swimmer will sink in a matter of minutes while the non-swimmer will survive because he’s wearing a PFD.”

“Being an athlete brings with it a certain sense of invincibility. Combine a swimmer with water and they believe they live there and own that environment……Once fatigue sets in, sinking is inevitable and Mr. Invincible won’t be wearing a life jacket… remember he owns the water environment.”

“I’m an aviation rescue swimmer used to believe in my abilities that I would survive a 24 hours by treading water, but now I’m rethinking.”

This is what the experts are saying, and I’m sure that many others who are comfortable and competent in the water have unconsciously adopted two sets of rules – one set for them, one set for everyone else (i.e. lifejackets, swim with a buddy, swim near a lifeguard). But guess what, you aren’t as safe as you think, and you’re the expert so everyone is watching how you act and modeling your behavior, especially children who look up to you.

What about the non-experts?

I don’t underestimate my abilities in the water because they are already pretty low. (OK, there was that one really stupid time I swam back to the boat from shore and got sun stroke and was lucky I wasn’t run over, even though the distance and conditions were within my swimming capabilities. I was MUCH younger.)

My personal perceptions about my responsibility really shifted when I became a mother and I realized how much of an impact my own actions had on my children. Parents wonder why their children stop wearing a bicycle helmet as soon as they are old enough to ride on their own. They wonder why their teenager doesn’t put on a life jacket when they are boating with friends.

But what are the parents (and professionals) doing? Too often it’s “do as I say, not as I do”. Sure, I feel a bit dorky wearing a helmet to ride 3 blocks to the ice cream store on my old-lady bike, but my kids are smart, they’ll decide pretty fast that if my brains aren’t going to splat on the pavement if I fall or am hit by a car, neither are theirs. (what I tell them vs. what I’m showing them by not wearing a helmet). Same for the life jacket, if side-stroke cruising old mom doesn’t need one, why do we? I wear mine whenever I’m above deck, even when we’re at anchor. Again, do I feel a bit silly? Yes. But it’s better than how I’d feel if my child fell off and was crushed between two boats or hit their head on the boat before they went under while I was relaxing, tidying lines or grabbing a snack.

Bottom line – if you are a parent or an aquatics professional, you need to walk the talk every time because water is unforgiving, even for professionals.

Need a reminder how to stay safer around water? Whenever possible, follow these basic messages from the International Open Water Drowning Prevention Guidelines:

International Open Water Drowning Prevention Guidelines

When in and around oceans, lakes and rivers, there are actions you can take to keep yourself safe and actions you can take to keep those in your care safe. While any one of the actions below may increase your level of safety, using all of the actions together will provide the most protection. The following guidelines are to help you reduce the risk of drowning for you and others in your care.

Keep Yourself Safe

  • Learn swimming and water safety survival skills. Always swim with others.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.
  • Never go in the water after drinking alcohol.
  • Know how and when to use a life jacket.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Know the water and weather conditions before getting in the water.
  • Always enter shallow and unknown water feet first.

Keep Others Safe

  • Help and encourage others, especially children, to learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Set water safety rules.
  • Always provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising in or near water.
  • Know how and when to use life jackets, especially with children and weak swimmers.
  • 
Learn first aid and CPR.
  • Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.

To learn more: www.seattlechildrens.org/dp

Developed by an international Task Force co-chaired by: L Quan of University of Washington School of Medicine and Seatttle Children’s Hospital (USA), K Moran of University of Auckland (New Zealand), and E Bennett of Seattle Children’s Hospital (USA)

Task Force members: S Beerman (Canada), J Bierens (Netherlands), BC Brewster (USA), J Connelly (Ireland), N Farmer (Australia), R Franklin (Australia), P George (Australia), J Kania (Kenya), B Matthews (Australia), A Rahman (Bangladesh), R Stallman (Norway), T Stanley (New Zealand), D Szpilman (Brazil), RMK Tan (Singapore), M Tipton (UK), Secretariat: M Tansik (USA)

If you agree that being competent in the water does not make you completely safe, click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids Even expert swimmers need to follow basic water safety rules. http://bit.ly/19lU5WU #stopdrowning’

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