Water Safety: Prevent Deaths by Drowning!, by M. in Canada

Summer Vacation Around Water

Summer is a wonderful season and one that requires knowledge of water safety to prevent deaths by drowning. The weather is warm, sunny, and even cold in areas of the country. Children cheer their happiness and excitement for the last day of school. Everyone is dreaming of summer vacation when they go camping, set up a tent in the cool shade of a wooded camp ground with a nice sandy beach by the shore of a lake with its refreshing waters. What could be more perfect?

They look forward to a vacation at the sea on a sandy beach. Even families with young children enjoy playing in the sand. Those beautiful days at the beach make wonderful memories.

There is however something that can transform a paradise into a nightmare. An unforeseen catastrophic event can result from a very avoidable accident. It is one of those things where you say to yourself: “How could I have let this happen?”. “How can this happen to me?” “If I only knew what to do; my best friend, my brother, or my girlfriend would still be with us today.” When these things happen, it really makes a vacation go sour. When you lose someone in a specific way, like an accident in the water, injuries, or drowning, the scenery stays in the memory. Lakes, rivers, and the sea will always remind you of that day.

Water Safety

I am here to help you create wonderful memories and make sure these tragic events never come as dark clouds to shatter the image of those few precious moments. As someone who worked in the field as a swimming instructor from the Red Cross and the Royal Life Saving Society for a number of years, I felt a genuine concern, since I know from personal experience pretty much all about drowning. I do not intend to give a full course on water safety. I will point out a few basic points in the hope to reduce unnecessary loss of lives and serious injuries.

What Drowning Looks Like

Every year many people die needlessly in activities linked to water. If you think drowning does not look like drowning, do I have news for you. As a swimming and life saving instructor, drowning is very obvious to me. Here is what a drowning person looks like in the water:

  1. A swimmer struggling to stay afloat gasping for air is not something I would ignore.
  2. A swimmer sinking under water unable to keep his head out of the water is an obvious situation.
  3. A case you see less often is the swimmer floating unconscious 12 to 24 inches beneath the surface of the water.

In case number 3, the unconsciousness could be caused by a medical condition or an unknown health problem. It could be a heart attack, for example, or seizure. It is important to discover the cause. That person should seek medical attention. Even if the person is breathing, if he or she remains unconscious, call an ambulance and send her to the hospital.

You cannot send a person to the hospital against her will. If a person is conscious, we ask for that person’s consent, even if she was previously unconscious before the resuscitation process. A person has the right to accept or refuse any medical treatment or medication out of her own free will. So if the person is conscious, that person makes the decision to go to the hospital or not, to go home, or even to go back in the water. That is her choice. If you do a good swift rescue intervention, it happens.

They sometimes do go back in the water. Even if the person is breathing, if she remains unconscious call an ambulance and send her to the hospital. My advice is don’t wait for the person to be down under water before making the decision to help. A swimmer who has difficulty keeping his head above water or struggling at the surface should receive immediate assistance.

Basic Water Safety Rules

What I just described above is exactly what I want to avoid. Here are a few basic rules of safety near and in the water:

1. Don’t swim alone.

2. Learn how to swim.

Take lessons from a certified instructor.

3. After the person is out of the water, when in doubt or if the person is unconscious or not breathing, call 911.

Ask for an ambulance. If a person is not breathing on her own, give respiratory assistance. It is also called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or CPR. There is also the Silvester Method. This method is used specifically when there are injuries to the face and mouth. CPR remains the first choice of respiratory assistance. Have on hand emergency phone numbers of a person to reach in case of emergency. This includes ambulance, doctor, hospitals nearby, and the person to reach if something happens to you.

4. Have on hand an extension you can use to help a person in distress in the water.

It could be a life pole, a life buoy, or a shepherd’s crook. That last one was my favorite tool. If you throw an extension, when the victim grabs it, expect the victim to pull on it. So, hold on tight. Here is a good reference page. Here is some visual assistance on how to rescue a drowning victim using a reaching assist or a shepherd’s crook.

5. Never leave the pool area when children are swimming.

At the beach don’t leave children out of your sight. Floating devices are no substitute for supervision. Know where your children are and what they are doing at all times.

6. Prevent access to your swimming pool when you are not present.

Why do you think we lock the access of public pools after closing hours? Why is there a fence around public pools? Basically, it is to prevent accidents. We want to avoid finding someone at the bottom of the pool the next morning. Before closing, one of us would always circle the perimeter of the pool area to make sure no one was in the water. Locker rooms and washrooms were checked also. Do not run around a built-in swimming pool. The floor is often slippery. Collisions may happen. All of this can result in injuries.

7. A watchful eye is a good prevention tool for kidnapping.

Today, we cannot be too careful. Too many of these incidents are reported every year. Who could think that could happen on vacation? These days it does. The time when children went from one camp site to another on their own, on a camp ground or moving around all over the beach to make new friends is long gone. Do not fear. Just know what to do.

8. Life jackets save lives.

Put them on when canoeing, sailing, or using other small boats. Life Jackets can be used when swimming in open water, such as lakes or rivers, as well. There are many kinds of life jackets. On board sail boats my preference goes to the life jacket with head rest on the back of the neck. It keeps the head of an unconscious or exhausted swimmer out of water without effort on his part. When sailing, always be aware. Know where that boom is at all times. If it comes to hit you in the back of the head and you fall into the water, you will love that life jacket that will keep you afloat even if you are unconscious.

9. Hold onto what floats if boat capsizes.

While enjoying the summer in a small boat, if it capsizes with you in it, in the middle of a lake, hold on to the boat if it is still floating or hold on to any floating object to help you remain at the surface with a minimum effort on your part. You are wearing your life jacket, of course, aren’t you? There is a good story about survival. It is “Lobsterman shares his tale of 12 hours floating on his boots” (From: Entertainment News: Lobsterman shares his tale of 12 hours floating on his boots. By The Associated Press May 27, 2017 8:52 am)

“On a moonlit July night in 2013, the Long Island fisherman was on the boat’s deck, trying to move a heavy ice cooler, when the handle snapped. In a flash, he lost his balance. No one saw him plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, without a life jacket many miles from shore. The fishing boat kept going ahead with its motor running on automatic pilot, and was out of sight in seconds leaving the fisherman alone in the ocean 45 miles (72 kilometers) from land. The man used his rubber boots to keep himself afloat in the Atlantic Ocean. It lasted 12 hours before being rescued.”

What if he lost his boots when falling in the ocean? Wouldn’t a life jacket be a nice comfortable piece of equipment to be wearing at the time? You bet, it would. Repeat after me: “life jacket”, “life jacket”, “life jacket”.

10. Choose preferably beaches with life guards on duty.

If you need help, it will be coming.

11. Pay attention to signs of danger.

Pay attention to postings informing you of the level of contamination of the water or signs saying “Danger, don’t swim”. Here is a little anecdote. Someone told me of her adventure when she decided to go swimming at a deserted ocean beach. The beach looked clean, nice, and inviting. She could not understand why she and her friend were the only swimmers. She later found out from the locals that the waters were infested with sharks in that particular area. I’d say, that is a good reason to avoid that beach.

12. To help a drowning victim, always use an extension to reach a drowning victim.

Any long object, like a simple big sturdy long wooden stick, will do. When a person is drowning, they are fighting to stay above water. They feel the need to get air into their lungs. This is what is going on physically inside the drowning victim’s head and body.

You want to help?

The idea is to put distance between you and the drowning person. A drowning victim has the reflex to grab anything they can reach and touch. It does not have to be visual. You touch a drowning person with a long pole, for example, and the person will try to grab that pole simply as a reflex.

You don’t want the drowning adult to use you as his floating device. The risk is that they will pull you under also. Then, we end up with two persons climbing on each other, trying to stay afloat. This is why I keep repeating to use an extension to reach the drowning victim.

Remember: Instructors, like me and the life guards, are trained to handle nasty situations. You are not. Even for us, it is difficult to find a victim once the swimmer is under water in a lake, because it is hard to see the drowned person. You just cannot see at the bottom of a lake. Most of the time, the water is not clear. So time is of the essence in a rescue operation. Your life jacket helps you float, and it is like your flag saying, “I’m here! Come and get me!”

If you see a person drowning, warn the lifeguard on duty before doing anything else.

Give them brief accurate information. You have to help them locate the drowning victim. Be precise. Sometimes just pointing at the victim in the water is enough. It will help locate the swimmer in need of help. This might just make you the hero of the day.

13. Know your limits.

Not everyone has the capacity to swim three hours at a time. As a swimmer, you can use a floating device, even a life jacket.

14. Avoid drugs and alcohol when swimming or boating.

Avoid drugs and alcoholic beverages near swimming pools and at the beach. You have heard not to drink and drive. Well, don’t drink and swim, and don’t drink alcoholic beverages while sailing or on board any boat. There should be no drunken sailors on board.

Get Training

I cannot tell you everything about water safety here. These courses by the Red Cross have proven to be helpful so far. I encourage you to contact them or your local pool or your municipality, and enroll in a water safety course.

Learn CPR and the Silvester method.

It is better to prevent a dangerous situation rather than put your life at risk needlessly.

Enjoy the summer.


  1. I once saw a sign at a boat launching ramp. It said ” The number of Florida boat drowning victims
    since 1962= 7,579.
    The number of Florida boat drowning victims wearing a life jacket since 1962= 0.”
    Ever since then I wear my jacket out on the water.
    Also, make sure your jacket is a bright color, not dark blue or gray. A father and son overturned in cold water on their jetski one day. The Youngster had on a blue lifejacket, the father had none. They could not get back on and had begun to go under after a long time in the water and had separated from the overturned jet ski. I was going down the ICW and saw the white of the overturned jet ski way off the channel and motored over to investigate. Only on getting closer were the heads of the father and son visible as the dark blue lifejacket gave no visual clue anyone was in the water.

  2. People should also be aware of electric shock drowning. Electric shock drowning is injury or death caused by electric current passing into and through someone’s body in water where electricity is present, usually in swimming pools or at docks, in marinas, and around boats connected to shore power. There is a very good (but quite technical) book on the subject on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Electric-Shock-Drowning-Causes-Prevention-ebook/dp/B071745MTV/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498047413&sr=8-1&keywords=gs+cargill and also an alarm that you can use to detect current in water:
    Electric shock drowning is preventable and claims hundreds of lives each year, please be aware and protect your family from this invisible killer.

  3. I feel compelled to bring up dry drowning. This is drowning that can occur hours or even days later.There was a case recently reported of a 4 year old Texas boy who died SIX days after swimming. The only positive thing is that his story saved a two year old from Colorado whose father remembered the story. Symptons of dry drowning are: shortness of breath, fever and coughing.



  4. There is a YouTube channel “Lifeguard Rescue” that shows how drowning people act in a wave pool. Flailing arms and their head bobbing too fast to take a breath.

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