OTHER VIEWS: Always respect the water when cooling off

Without necessary caution,tragedy can quickly replace a leisurely swim. It happens with alarming frequency.

Ali Pehling, left, of Duluth, gets splashed by her sister, Maddie (not pictured), while swimming in Lake Superior near the Park Point Beach House with her Goldendoodle, Kit, and other sister, Evia, right.
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The weekend heatwave left plenty of us longing for a dip, for relief, for water so cool, so welcoming, so refreshing.

But also: so deadly.

Without necessary caution or the respect for lakes, rivers, and pools that they deserve, tragedy can quickly replace a leisurely swim. It happens with alarming frequency, in particular during these warm-weather weeks and months.

Americans die from drowning every 10 minutes, according to a 2019 YMCA report, and one out of every five of them is a child. In addition, for every child who drowns, another five are treated for injuries after being submerged in water. Overall, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for kids 5 to 14.

Further, from 2005 to 2014, an annual average of 3,536 Americans died in non-boating-related drownings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 10 deaths per day. Another 332 Americans die each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.


“It only takes a moment,” the American Red Cross warns in a flyer about water safety. “A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line, or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs; at the beach or in oceans; on lakes, rivers and streams; and in bathtubs and even buckets.”

Respect for the water includes learning how to swim. That’s the message behind “Make A Splash,” a national initiative of Olympic gold medal-winning swimmers and others who believe it’s never too early to begin learning.

May was Water Safety Month in the U.S.

A concern of Make A Splash is the risk to children of color, as Linda Stein, news editor at the Delaware Valley Journal in Pennsylvania, wrote in a commentary last week distributed by Black children drown three times more frequently than their white counterparts, Stein reported, citing as her sources USA Swimming and a 2018 study that found that 70% of African Americans don’t know how to swim.

The reason? “Fear,” three-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Rowdy Gaines said, according to Stein. “That fear is passed down generationally, and that’s something we (with Make A Splash) are trying to overcome in that community.”

Whether you know how to swim or not, these safety tips from the YMCA are good reminders, especially on hot weekends when the longing to cool off leads to a backyard pool, a lake, or elsewhere.

  1. Never swim alone. Use the buddy system, and remember: “Lifeguards don't just watch the people in the pool, lake, or ocean. Their job is also to watch the water and advise swimmers on any safety concerns and questionable conditions that might arise,” as the YMCA states. “They are also trained to respond quickly when something happens.”
  2. Parents, always watch your kids when they’re in water. Put your phone away and be vigilant.
  3. Don’t play hold-your-breath games underwater. There’s too great a risk of passing out.
  4. Wear a life jacket. Things like water wings, floaties, and pool noodles are flotation aids, not life-saving devices. Even a Coast Guard-certified life jacket isn’t enough. Wearing one isn’t an excuse to ignore water-safety guidelines.
  5. Kids, don’t jump in to save a friend. You could both drown then. Instead, use the Y’s “reach, throw, don’t go” technique, which involves using a long object to pull a struggling swimmer to safety.
  6. Enter the water feet first. Severe injuries can occur when jumping or diving headfirst into water that proves shallower than expected.
  7. Stay away from pool drains. Hair, bathing suits, and even arms and legs have gotten stuck in them, leading to drowning or serious injury. If you notice a drain not operating correctly, report it immediately.
  8. Stay within designated swim areas. There are likely drop-offs or other hazards beyond the ropes or buoys.
  9. Don’t drink and swim. Alcohol impairs judgment, coordination, and balance. It hampers the ability to swim well.
  10. Learn CPR. Accidents happen, and bystanders are typically the first ones who can respond.

This weekend’s blast of heat was just the first this summer. We could be in for a steamy few months. By all means, cool off. But do so safely — always.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.


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