Healthy Living

Lake Swimming And Boating Safety Tips: Still Waters Run Deep

Columbia Lake
So beautiful and serene, lakes present many unseen dangers to those seeking recreation near or in their waters. Nicholas A. Tonelli

Unfortunately, drowning is not the only danger of lakeside recreation, where the possibility of other incidents looms large. Boating catastrophes and lacerations from pieces of glass lying in the murky depths are common mishaps in lakes. The simplest way for lake-goers to prevent injuries when near or in the water is to be mindful of their surroundings — weather, water vessels, and other visitors of the lake.

First, though, it is wise to brush up on the essentials of water safety. Parents need to watch their children at all times. "Know where your kids are in the water because if they go under, the water is dark and you won't be able to see them," said Jim Dickerson, park ranger for Longview Lake in Missouri, to Action News. Dickerson also suggested that small children and older swimmers should wear a life jacket at all times. "You never know when you might drop into a deep part of the lake or suddenly need help staying above water," he warned.

He further explained that water levels and flows often shift rapidly without warning. Calm waters can suddenly move rapidly and become dangerous. Still shallow-seeming waters may run deep. "In a swimming pool you can see the bottom of the pool and you know where the water begins to get deeper," said Dickerson to Action News. "In a lake you can't see the bottom — there is brush or debris that you can get caught in and there could be sudden drop-offs that instantly put you in deep water."

The currents in lakes may be more powerful and unexpected than anticipated; not everyone is able to handle swift or powerful currents. Lakes can be deceiving because the shore may be farther away than you realize and you lose strength. It is also recommended that swimmers and boaterskeep a safe distance from dams, as water levels can change rapidly near them.

Boats

Public officials encourage lake-goers to pay careful attention to dams, warning signs, buoys, and horns. Sirens may be activated a very short time before the flow of water is increased. Never anchor a boat below a dam, and be sure to leave the vessel's engine on when passing by a dam. Remember, too, that impacts from wakes can cause a boat passenger to be thrown into the air and land forcefully back onto the boat. It is wise to slow down whenever passing another boat.

Another warning that is specific to lakes centers on carbon monoxide poisoning, which causes severe headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and fainting. Carbon monoxide (CO) levels from boat exhaust can reach critical levels in a short time and can affect passengers in boats, whether they are at speed, anchored, or idling. When concentrations of CO are high enough, unconsciousness may be the first sign of CO poisoning; this can occur without any other or preceding symptom.

Sources of CO poisoning include inadequately ventilated canvas enclosures, exhaust gas trapped in enclosed places, blocked exhaust outlets, and other vessels.

It is important to remember:

  • CO cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted.
  • Boat passengers should stay away from engine and generator exhaust outlets.
  • Do not sit, surf, or hang on the back deck or swim platform while the engines are running.
  • Avoid areas under swim platform or anywhere exhaust outlets are located.
  • Do not ignore the CO alarms installed inside the boat.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning, immediately get the victim to fresh air and seek medical care.

Lacerations

Broken glass, sharp metal, clam shells, fishing hooks, sticks, and other sharp objects are easily hidden beneath the sand and water of a lake. Most bleeding can be stopped by the exertion of direct pressure; simply place a clean, dry cloth on top of the wound and press. Later, cleanse the wound with gentle soap and water to reduce the chance of infection. Finally, if your tetanus shot is not up to date, you may need to go to a hospital to get one; request a doctor's advice on the matter if you are unsure.

You will need to seek medical attention if:

  •  Your wound keeps bleeding or the pain gets worse.
  •  You have a high temperature or signs of infection (pus, redness, or red streaks leading from the wound).
  •  You have numbness or swelling below the wound, or you cannot move the joint below the wound.
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