One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the wide variety of water activities we can enjoy, from swimming to paddle boarding to boating. But our region’s streams and rivers can be swift and its open waters wild and cold. Dr. Alex Quistberg, a UW Medicine researcher at
Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, says taking a few simple water-safety precautions can go a long way to making sure your family’s time in and on the water is as safe as it is enjoyable.
• Alcohol use was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating injuries.
• Three out of every four boating deaths result from drowning. The vast majority of people who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.
• Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed rank also contribute to boating injuries.
Avoid leaving kids unattended near water
Children are at particularly high risk of drowning, Quistberg says, so they should always wear a well-fitting, approved life jacket when they’re playing in or near the water. “No child, especially a very young child, should be left unattended near water and that includes wading pools,” Quistberg says. “It’s important to have a responsible adult assigned to keeping an eye on kids while they’re playing in and near the water. The fact is, children drown quickly and quietly. A child should never be left unattended, not even for one minute, and young children in the water should be within ‘touching reach’ of a responsible adult.”
“If you’re going swimming, know the water you’re entering,” says Quistberg. “Rivers and streams can be fast-moving and treacherous and open water colder and deeper than expected. It’s best to swim at one of the many beaches with a lifeguard on duty. Never swim alone.”
• In 2012, 112 people drowned in Washington State. Nearly one out of five of these deaths were children or teens..
• Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children and teens aged 1 to 17 in Washington..
• Many drownings among younger children occur in bathtubs, buckets and swimming pools.
Life jackets save lives when worn while boating
Recent studies by UW Medicine researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital have found that only about one in three Washington boaters wears a life jacket while out on the water.
Life jacket use was highest among boaters engaged in activities where life jackets are required by law, such as those operating jet skis or waterskiing, and among children age 12 and under, who by law must wear a life jacket when out on a boat.
Life jacket use was lower among teens, who are not required to wear a life jacket, and lowest among adults, of whom only about one in five wore a life jacket. Many adults liked newer “inflatable” life jackets which are more comfortable for consistent use; however, they are not safe for children.
“An important finding from these studies was that when even one adult on the boat wore a life jacket, adolescents and teens aboard were 20 times more likely to be wearing theirs,” says Quistberg. “Parents are a powerful role-model, as kids watch what you do more than what you say. All boaters should wear an approved life jacket at all times. That beautiful sunny day, when most boating occurs, is also when most problems arise. Experienced boaters know that crises arise quickly and unexpectedly – such as striking a submerged log or an unexpected swell. Having a life jacket stored away on the boat doesn’t help once you’ve fallen in the water.”
Reduce the risk of drowning
• Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons have been shown to reduce the risk of swimming even among children aged 1 to 4..
• Learn adult and child CPR. If bystanders are able to perform CPR, or CardioPulmonary Resuscitation, the chances that a drowning victim will survive and do well greatly improve.
• Wear a life jacket. Non-swimmers and young children should wear well-fitting, approved life jackets while playing in and near the water and boaters should always wear one.
Alcohol and boating don’t mix
”Boating is a great time to relax, have fun and let loose — but without alcohol. Boating under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. Each year, 25 to 30 percent of boating-related deaths in Washington State involve alcohol. It’s very easy to slip and fall overboard on a boat when you’ve been drinking, and every year we see boaters who have been seriously injured because someone was piloting a boat while intoxicated. Alcohol and boating don’t mix, just like alcohol and driving don’t mix.”
“Enjoy the water this summer, but do it safely,” says Quistberg. “If you don’t know how to swim, now’s a good time to learn. Swim where it’s safe, supervise kids near the water, and wear a life jacket when you’re out on the water.”
For more water safety tips or to request an appointment with a primary care physician, call