Beach Safety Week kicks off

National Beach Safety Week started yesterday, and an official from Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s office said Kaua‘i could be the first Hawaiian Island to participate.

According to Beach Safety Week sponsor the United States Lifesaving Association, drowning is the third-leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of accidental death for persons aged 5 to 44. For children under 3, drowning is the leading cause of injury death. In states like Hawai‘i, California and Florida, drowning is the leading cause of injury death for persons under 15.

Death by drowning is only the tip of the iceberg for aquatic injury, the USLA says. For every 10 children who die by drowning, 140 are treated in emergency rooms and 36 are admitted for further treatment in hospitals. Some suffer injuries that impair them for life.

Males drown at a significantly higher rate than females, around five to one, the USLA says. For boat-related drownings, the ratio is about 14 to one.

On its Web site (www.usla.org/PublicInfo/bchsftyweek.asp), the USLA lists 10 safety tips to reduce the risk of drowning:

• Swim near a lifeguard: USLA statistics over a 10-year period show that the chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a beach with lifeguards. USLA has calculated the chance of a person drowning at a beach protected by USLA-affiliated lifeguards at one in 18 million.

• Learn to swim: Learning to swim is the best defense against drowning, the USLA says. Teach children to swim at an early age. Children who are not taught when they are very young tend to avoid swim instruction as they age.

• Never swim alone: Many drownings involve single swimmers. With a buddy, some is there to help by signaling for assistance from others. At least have someone onshore watching you.

• Don’t fight the current: USLA has found that some 80 percent of rescues by USLA-affiliated lifeguards at ocean beaches are caused by rip currents. These currents are formed by surf and gravity; once surf pushes water up the slope of the beach, gravity pulls it back. If you are caught in a rip current, don’t fight it by trying to swim directly to shore. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you feel the current relax, then swim to shore. Most rip currents are narrow and a short swim parallel to shore will bring you to safety.

• Swim sober: Alcohol is a major factor in drowning. Alcohol can reduce body temperature and impair swimming ability. Perhaps more importantly, both alcohol and drugs impair good judgment, the USLA says, which may cause people to take risks they would not otherwise take.

• Leash your board: Surfboards and bodyboards should be used only with a leash. Leashes are usually attached to the board and the ankle or wrist. They are available in most shops where surfboards and bodyboards are sold or rented. With a leash, the user will not become separated from the floatation device. One additional consideration is a breakaway leash. A few drownings have been attributed to leashes becoming entangled in underwater obstructions. A breakaway leash avoids this problem.

• Don’t float where you can’t swim: Non-swimmers often use floatation devices, like inflatable rafts, to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a floatation device unless they are able to swim. Use of a leash is not enough because a non-swimmer may panic and be unable to swim back to the floatation device, even with a leash. The only exception is a person wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

• Life jackets equal safe boating: Some 80 percent of boating fatalities are from drowning. Most involve people who never expected to end up in the water, but fell overboard or ended up in the water when the boat sank. Children are particularly susceptible to this problem and in many states, children are required to wear lifejackets whenever they are aboard boats.

• Don’t dive headfirst, protect your neck: Serious, lifelong injuries including paraplegia, occur every year due to diving headfirst into unknown water and striking the bottom. Bodysurfing can result in a serious neck injury when the swimmer’s neck strikes the bottom. Check for depth and obstructions before diving, then go feet first the first time. Use caution while bodysurfing, always extending a hand ahead of you.

• At home, you’re the lifeguard: Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in many states for infants and children under 2. Home pools are a major reason for this. Many deaths occur in the few moments it takes a parent to answer a telephone or doorbell. Never leave a child alone anywhere near a pool. Make sure it is completely fenced, all gates are locked there is no access from the home to the pool. Don’t let your child or a neighbor’s child get into the pool when you’re not there.

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