As temperatures are heating up, many people will head to the local waterways in an effort to stay cool. Officials have issued some basic safety tips to help keep everyone out of harm’s way this summer.
Recreating in PG&E and irrigation district canals and flumes is strictly prohibited. Stay alive by staying out of these water conveyances, which are very dangerous due to slippery sides and fast-moving cold water. Stay out of canals and off elevated flumes.
Prevention is the best way to save a person from drowning. By the time a person is struggling in water, a rescue is extremely unlikely and places the rescuer at risk.
Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex,” causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning. When faced with swift water, even the strongest swimmers may be easily overwhelmed. Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water. Cold water also reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature, and causes impairment that can lead to fatalities.
If you do fall into the water, here are some survival tips:
Do control breathing, don’t gasp. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than a half-cup of water in a person’s lungs to drown. When someone remains calm, they have a greater chance of self-rescue. Don’t panic if you fall into the water. Stay with your boat. It will help you stay afloat and will be seen more easily by rescuers. If it’s capsized, try to climb on top.
Stay afloat with the help of a life jacket, regain control of breathing, and keep head above water in view of rescuers. If possible, remove heavy shoes. Look for ways to increase buoyancy such as seat cushions or an ice chest. If you’re in the water with others, huddle together facing towards each other to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble. Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface - this is especially the case during spring and early summer snowmelt. Rising water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. Guided trips for inexperienced paddlers are recommended.
Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket can increase survival time.
Anyone within 20 feet of water should be wearing a life jacket in case of an unexpected fall. A life jacket can also provide some thermal protection against the onset of cold water shock and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Do not assume that someone is watching them. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults.
Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.
For more water safety information, including boating laws, visit www.BoatCalifornia.com.