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‘Life jackets worn, nobody mourns’: Officials urge open water safety

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WASHINGTON (WOWK) – While the coronavirus pandemic rages on, its impact can be seen in summer activities throughout the country.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today more than 30 people lost their lives to drowning in June at lake and river projects the agency manages. This is a 47% percent increase in drownings over the same time period last year.

USACE National Water Safety Program Manager Pam Doty says officials have found more people in open water areas due to COVID-19 closing public beaches and community pools.

“Unfortunately, these areas (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.) are associated with hidden dangers that swimmers may not be aware of including waves, currents, drop-offs, underwater obstructions and others,” she said.

USACE says nearly all the drowning victims were adult males between the ages of 18 and 85 and were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the drowning.

“July is the month when we normally see the most water-related accidents and fatalities so there is even more reason to be concerned this year,” Doty said. “We have a continuous water safety awareness program at our lake and river projects, and we stress to the recreating public a number of things to be aware of before going swimming in open waters.”

Safety concerns USACE officials ask residents to be aware of include:

  • Be sure to give yourself times to rest.

Many adults who drown in open water knew how to swim and overestimated their swimming abilities. While pools allow swimmers to easily reach the sides or push off the bottom when they need to take a break, there are no sides to grab onto in open water and the bottom can be several feet below you. This makes taking a break and relaxing difficult unless you are wearing a life jacket.

  • Be aware of drop-offs along shorelines.

Those swimming or wading along shorelines may encounter a deep drop-off just a few feet away. Drop-offs might be more than 100 feet deep at some lakes.

USACE officials say swimming in a protected area, such as a cove or around a boat might seem safer, but even in those situations you can become exhausted. Boats tend to drift away and people misjudge distances like how far it is to the shoreline.

  • Learn and practice proper swimming breathing techniques.

Holding your breath too long while swimming or over-breathing by taking several deep breaths in a row before a swim can cause shallow-water blackout. Shallow-water blackout causes people to faint or blackout in the water and drown.

Shallow-water blackout often happens to people who know how to swim well because they deny their body’s desire to inhale for too long. Once someone loses consciousness water enters the lungs, causing them to drown.

  • Don’t overestimate your swimming ability.

In open water, even strong swimmers can become exhausted and drown. Also, if you don’t swim often your swimming ability will decrease the older you get. Some people may know how to float, but they don’t think about survival floating when they panic. Wave action and currents also make it difficult to float in open water.

  • Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning when near boats.

Carbon monoxide is heavier than air and lighter than water, so it floats on the water’s surface and one breath, if you’re in the water with it, can be deadly.

Sources of carbon monoxide on your boat may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges and space and water heaters. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness.

Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector on your boat. Turn off the boat’s engine and other carbon monoxide producing equipment when anchored. Maintain a fresh circulation of air through and around your boat at all times. Avoid areas of your boat where exhaust fumes may be present. Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform.

  • Wear lifejackets.

Wearing a life jacket can increase your chances of survival drastically, so when swimming, wading, floating or playing in open water please wear a life jacket that fits you properly.

USACE officials say they describe the belt-style, inflatable life jacket that you manually inflate as ideal for swimmers in open water. All you have to do is wear it and when you need it, pull the inflation cord, let it inflate, and put it over your head. An oral inflation tube is provided on all inflatable life jackets as a backup inflation device.

Non- or weak swimmers should not wear an inflatable life jacket.

For more water safety information visit and follow Please Wear It on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Remember, “Life Jackets Worn … Nobody Mourns.”

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