In a recent report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that during June, more than 30 people lost their lives to drowning at lake and river projects that the agency manages. This year’s June statistics show a 47% increase in drownings over the same period last year.
Typically, children are the primary victims of unintentional drownings. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. However, USACE reported that most of the drowning victims this June were adult males, between the ages of 18 and 85. The victims were not wearing a life jacket at the time of their drownings.
Wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket is the best precaution that you can take while enjoying water activities as even strong, experienced swimmers can drown.
Certain factors influence someone’s drowning risk, such as lack of swimming ability, alcohol use, seizure disorders and failure to wear life jackets. An expected reason for the increased number of drownings is people swimming in new areas that aren’t meant for swimming, due to COVID-19 closures.
“With some public beaches and community pools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finding more people this summer are swimming, wading, floating, and playing in open water areas (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.) not designated for swimming,” said Pam Doty, USACE National Water Safety Program manager in a recent article. “Unfortunately, these areas are associated with hidden dangers that swimmers may not be aware of, including waves, currents, drop-offs, underwater obstructions and others.”
While all the Brazos River Authority’s public use areas, including designated swimming areas, are open, it’s always important to revisit water safety practices before heading out on the water. Whether you are boating, fishing or swimming, there are safety concerns that you should know:
- Everyone should wear life jackets that fit correctly and are securely fastened. Boaters are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board for every person on their boat, so everyone on board should always be wearing their life jacket. To make sure that your life jacket fits, put on the life jacket and fasten the straps. Then, hold your arms straight up over your head and ask a friend to grasp the top of the arm openings and gently pull up. The lifejacket shouldn’t be able to slip over your head and should fit snugly. As a reminder, the state of Texas requires:
- Children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable PFD while underway.
- All vessels under 16 feet (including canoes and kayaks) must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V for each person on board.
- Vessels 16 feet and longer, in addition to the Type I, II, III or V for each person on board, must have one Type IV throwable device which must be readily accessible. Canoes and kayaks over 16 feet are exempt from the Type IV requirement.
- There should always be a designated “water watcher” to pay attention to children who are swimming in the water. Drowning can be silent and quick, so there must be an adult who is watching the water with their full attention. Please swim only in designated areas—venturing out to open water has unpredictable factors and can be extremely dangerous with increased water traffic.
- Do not allow children to operate watercraft.
- Having good swimming skills can help prevent drowning. According to the CDC, taking swimming lessons helps reduce the risk of drowning, especially for children aged 1 to 4 years.
- CPR performed by bystanders can save lives and increase survival chances. Take time to learn CPR in case of emergencies.
- Use the “buddy system,” even in the water. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible.
- Be aware of local weather conditions before going out to swim. Thunderstorms with lightning and strong winds create dangerous swimming situations.
This past February, the Brazos River Authority partnered with Safe Kids North Texas, led by Cook Children's Medical Center, to provide 20 personal floatation devices at a loaner station located in the city of Granbury’s City Beach on Lake Granbury. Another 25 new life jackets were distributed across three loaner stations in Somerville County, including Wheeler Branch Reservoir, Big Rock Park and at the “Blue Hole” in Dinosaur Valley State Park.
For more information regarding water safety, click here to read the Water Safety Act from Texas Parks & Wildlife.