Lifejacket safety around the water

Larry Case

I have wanted to talk to you about this for some time. Its summertime and the kids are out of school and everybody is heading for the rivers and lakes of this great nation of ours. Many times in these pages I have encouraged you to get out there and enjoy it. Go fishing, go creek tramping, get the canoe out of the garage and enjoy the summer before it is over, and my friends it will be over before you know it.

What I have not done, and I am asking your forgiveness for this, is to encourage readers more to wear life jackets, (PFD’s) while doing anything in the water. Well, I am going to do something about that right now. When I say wear a PFD on the water, I am not just talking about boating, many of the drownings we see during this season stem from people being in the water, usually swimming and wade fishing.

The men and women of your states natural resources law enforcement agency, Natural Resources Police Officer, Wildlife Conservation Officer, Ranger, whatever the title, see way too much of this during summer. I certainly saw enough of water related deaths in my 36 years on the job and believe me when I tell you it never got any easier deal with.

I am proud to say that West Virginia DNR is working to do something about this problem. Operation Life Jacket is a new program involving DNR Law Enforcement, Wildlife, and Parks Divisions.

“Strong currents in natural bodies of water can pose a serious threat to swimmers, and they’re often invisible,” said Colonel Jerry Jenkins, Chief of West Virginia DNR Law Enforcement Section. “As part of Operation Life Jacket, the Division of Natural Resources wants the public to be aware of the dangers of currents for swimmers of all ages and abilities,” Colonel Jenkins added.

“Water conditions can change quickly. A calm surface can disguise strong currents or debris just below. Currents tend to be stronger after periods of heavy rainfall, but swimmers should always be cautious. Even good swimmers can succumb to currents,” said Colonel Jenkins.

Swimmers should follow these safety guidelines:

* Wear a life jacket in natural bodies of water, even if you can swim.

* Children’s “floaties” like water wings, inner-tubes and pool noodles are not designed to keep swimmers safe. Make sure children use U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices.

* Teach children specific rules about how to behave near bodies of water.

* Always swim with a buddy.

* Don’t dive into natural bodies of water. It is difficult to estimate water depth and see hidden objects in the natural environment.

* Watch out for the dangerous “Toos:” Too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.

* Don’t let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out and drown.

* Remember the rules “reach, throw, row and then go” if someone needs help in the water. Have reaching or throwing equipment available and know how to use them. A cooler or sturdy branch could be used in an emergency.

* Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water is still important.

* Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone’s life.

* Never mix alcohol or drugs and water recreation.

Social media is a powerful force in today’s world, whether we like it or not. Personally I don’t like some of the things on Facebook, but to get out the word on a message like this, it can be invaluable. Take the pledge to wear a life jacket by sharing the pledge “sticker” on social media and using the hashtag #wearitwv.( )

Water related tragedies are preventable and getting the word out through programs like this will save lives, no question. If your state does not have a program similar to this, maybe you would want to consider it? I don’t think your efforts on this can accomplish anything but good. If you or your states agency that deals with water safety would like to contact the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources on this issue I am sure they would be glad to talk to you about it. (304-558-2784)

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