Water Safety & Drowning Prevention

Water Safety & Drowning Prevention

Living along the lakeshore brings a myriad of benefits – spectacular sunsets, boating, fishing, naps on the beach and cooling off in the lake on a hot summer’s day, just to name a few.

Thousands of residents and tourists flock to Holland every summer attracted by our pristine waterways and alluring beaches.

Sadly, every summer, people of all ages tragically lose their lives as they venture out in our waters. A recent report from the USCG sites the Holland Harbor pier as the most dangerous in the state due to its unique current flow. I have personally participated in many water rescues as a paramedic and later as an emergency physician working in Holland.

Most of these tragedies occur by accidental drowning in pools, river, ponds and many of our inland lakes, not to mention Lake Michigan. This month we want to focus on prevention and ways to respond to someone who gets into unexpected trouble in the water.

  • Adequately supervise and keep a head count of both the young and old in or around the water.
  • Wear appropriate personal flotation devices (PFDs.
  • Know the water environment, such as currents, depth or any hazards below the surface that may be present. If unknown, then ask.
  • Avoid swimming and diving off navigational piers and around jetties. These tend to claim the most victims each summer. I can personally attest to this fact!
  • Learn the basics of what a rip current is and how to escape its grip. Here’s a quick YouTube video showing the science of a rip current and how to escape. Look for these clues for help identifying rip currents:
    • channel of churning, choppy water
    • an area having a notable difference in water color
    • a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
    • a break in the incoming wave pattern
  • Pay close attention to all posted flag and sign warnings.
  • Use a buddy system in case someone gets fatigued or in trouble. And when fatigued, get out of the water!
  • Erect appropriate barricades around pools and ponds and establish a vigilant habit of checking gate access.
  • Become familiar with swim rescue devices (rescue loops, poles, life rings). Many popular swimming destinations no longer have life guards present but, the safety gear may still remain.
  • Stay nourished and hydrated. Avoid excessive alcohol.
  • Consider swim lessons. It is never too late to learn and lessons are readily available.
Response to Someone in Trouble:
  • Do not attempt a water rescue unless you are healthy and qualified, or you may become a victim yourself.
  • Specifically designate someone to go for help or call 911. Don’t assume!
  • Keep your eyes on a swimmer in trouble, using any stationary landmarks to guide rescuers to their location.
  • Head and neck trauma in drowning cases are rare, but shallow water diving injuries occur too often, so be aware.
  • Any near drowning victim who experiences full submersion MUST get to the ER for assessment. There can be delayed effects, sometimes deadly.
  • Become trained in Basic Cardiac Life Support, including use of AEDs (defibrillators).

Having this knowledge could save a life. Have a safe summer, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Dr. Brian Coté

Healthy Life Category