Simple Precautions Can Prevent Tragedy

Summer's a great time to hit the water in Texas, but it's both easier to get in trouble and harder for others to recognize that someone's in danger than most people think.

Research has shown that drowning victims usually don't scream for help or splash around a lot before going under.

"It's a quick process," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden Lt. Cody Jones, of the department's marine enforcement section. "Statistics show drowning can occur in less than two minutes, and most children who drown are away from their parents for less than five minutes."

Jones said Texas had 136 drowning in public waters last year, up from 129 in 2009. So far this year there have been 37.

"All it takes is one step and someone can be in 10 feet of water," said Jones. "If they don't have the ability or power to swim, they slip off into a hole and nobody knows where they are or how to get to them," said Jones.

Officials advise against swimming alone or getting in water when intoxicated. In many instances, proper precautions like wearing a life jacket, teaching children and adults about water safety and designating a group member to watch everyone in or near the water can go a long way in preventing drownings this and every summer.

"If you have a lawn chair, sit down on the shore and watch your kids playing in the water," said Tim Spice, a TPWD urban outdoor program specialist. "Don't distract yourself from their safety."

Water safety experts across the nation advocate the 'reach, throw, row, go' process if you see someone who appears to be having trouble in the water.

First, attempt to reach the swimmer from a dock or the shore by extending a fishing rod, tree branch, or or other object. Next, try throwing a buoyant object such as a life jacket, inflatable floaty or foam ice chest.

The next step, if the distressed swimmer is unable to reach these things, is to get a life vest on and row or boat out to them. If rowing, guide the swimmer to the boat's stern, then paddle back to shore with them still in the water so the boat does not tip. If you are in a motor boat, turn the motor off and coast to the swimmer.

If you are a trained rescue swimmer you can attempt to go into the water to save them, but remember to tell someone on the shore of your intentions and bring a buoyant object to keep between you and the swimmer in addition to your life jacket. If you are not a trained rescue swimmer, go for help.

"There are two parts to the 'go' step: we tell kids to go for help and most adults too, because unless you have the proper training you can get taken under by someone fighting for their lives in the water," said Spice.

For children, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services promotes a "see and save" water safety message. They urge caregivers to keep a vigilant watch over children near water to keep them safe. Twenty-seven children have drowned so far this year in water bodies ranging from lakes to a mop bucket.

Officials recommend that children between the ages of 2-5 be given swimming lessons. A study from the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggests children under 4 years of age are 88 percent less likely to drown if they have taken formal swimming lessons.

TPWD is responsible for enforcing the Texas Water Safety Act on all public waters, certifying boater education students and instructors, and maintaining statistics about water related fatalities in Texas. The department also offers boating safety classes.

For more information on boater safety and education, visit the TPWD boater safety page.

For other safety-related news, click here.

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