Summer may be winding down, but there’s still a week to go before Labor Day Weekend. So, plenty of time for another reminder to always respect the water and to take precautions when swimming or boating in lakes, rivers, or pools.
A spate of tragic, late-summer drownings in northern Minnesota shows the reminder remains relevant, timely, and urgent, no matter what the calendar says. At least four people have died in Northland lakes this month alone, ranging in age from 19 to 66. In addition, there have been numerous water emergencies in and around Duluth and across the region all summer long.
A busy year for first responders and search-and-rescue crews has only been made that much more challenging by a shortage of lifeguards, in part the result of fewer certification classes due to COVID-19.
"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."
Anyone in the coming weeks, before autumn’s chill sets in for good, longing for a dip, for relief from the lingering heat of one of our hottest summers ever, can and needs to do their part to ensure a safe end of summer, even if the months until now have been marked by moments of water-related heartbreak.
In a June editorial, the News Tribune presented a series of 10 water-safety tips from the YMCA. They’re worth repeating. And following. Here they are again:
One, 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."
Two, parents, always watch your kids when they're in water. Put your phone away and be vigilant.
Three, don't play hold-your-breath games underwater. There's too great a risk of passing out. It’s not a game to be won.
Four, 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 may not be enough. Wearing one isn't an excuse to ignore water-safety guidelines.
Five, 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.
Six, enter the water feet first. Severe injuries can occur when jumping or diving headfirst into water that proves shallower than expected.
Seven, 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.
Eight, stay within designated swim areas. There are likely drop-offs or other hazards beyond ropes or buoys.
Nine, don't drink and swim. Alcohol impairs judgment, coordination, and balance. It hampers the ability to swim well.
And 10, learn CPR. Accidents happen, and bystanders are typically the first ones who can respond.
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.
Respect for the water includes learning how to swim. And it demands caution and respect every time we’re out swimming or boating. No matter what time of year it is. And no matter how little summer we may have left.