Water Safety for Lakes, Rivers, and Beaches
Ravalli County Public Health
205 Bedford, Suite L
Know the Water:
Montana waters can be appealing and dangerous at any time of the year.
Swimming Smarts "Buddy up!"
Learning to swim... Is the best thing anyone can do. It is never too late!
Supervise children at all times when around water. Unexpected medical
emergencies can happen in any body of water. Never swim alone, wear a
properly fitted life jacket (also known as a personal flotation device,
or PFD) when in or near the water. A fun event can turn tragic in an instant
because of strong currents, big waves and strong tides.
Know your limits:
Do not go beyond your abilities. Even the strongest swimmers are no match
to the power of water.
Swim in safe areas only:
Swimming in an open body of water (like a river, lake or ocean) is different
from swimming in a pool. The distances across bodies of water are always
farther than they appear! More energy is needed to handle the currents
and other changing conditions in open water. Potential hazards for swimmers
range from polluted water which can cause a variety of health problems,
to hidden underwater objects, murky water, log jams, unexpected drop-offs
and aquatic plant life.
Be careful about diving:
Check the depth. Use caution before taking the leap. Make sure there are
no hidden rocks or other hazards. Underwater objects may appear deeper
than they are. Diving injuries can cause head injury, permanent spinal
cord damage, paralysis, and sometime even death. Drowning can occur very
quickly because of unconsciousness due to head injuries.
Check out rafts and docks:
Be sure that rafts and docks are in good condition. Free of loose boards
and exposed nails and never swim under a raft or dock.
Avoid drainage ditches and arroyos.
What is an arroyo? "A steep-sided gully cut by running water in an
arid or semiarid region." They transform quickly into raging rivers
after heavy rains. Fast water and debris in the current can quickly take a life.
Getting too cool.
Your body temperature drops far more quickly in water than it does on
land. Monitor yourself when swimming in cold water and stay close to shore.
If you feel your body start to shiver or your muscles cramp up, get out
of the water quickly; it doesn't take long for hypothermia to set
in. What is hypothermia? "Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous
drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold
Alcohol and water never mix.
Never mix alcohol or other drugs with water activities; these substances
can affect judgment, coordination and the ability to self-rescue.
More people die in boating accidents every year than in airplane crashes
or train wrecks. One third of boating deaths are alcohol related. Make
sure the captain or person operating the boat or water craft is experienced
and competent. The U.S. Coast Guard warns about a condition called boater's
fatigue, which means that the wind, noise, heat and vibration of the boat
all combine to wear you down when you're on the water. Anyone being
towed by a boat must wear a life jacket. Always have a spotter when towing
people who are skiing, wake boarding or riding on an inflatable. There
must be a wearable life jacket (Type I, II, or III) for each person on
vessels less than 16 feet long (including canoes and kayaks of any length.)
Vessels 16 feet and longer must have one Type I, II or III life jacket
for each person on board. In addition, one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type
IV throwable device must be on board and be immediately available for use.
If you're operating or riding jet skis or personal watercraft you
must wear a life jacket.
Personal flotation device (PFD)
In Montana children under 12 years of age must wear a life jacket (PFD)
on a boat less than 26 feet in length that is in motion. Always wear a
life-jacket when on a boat, personal water craft (such as a Jet Ski,)
paddle board or any other water craft; nearly 90% of all boaters who drown
are not wearing a life-jacket or not wearing it properly.
A life jacket is REQUIRED on board if the Angler sits above the water
surface. Vessel is designed to be rowed or paddled or angler might also
use kicking fins. Vessel can carry more than one person.
Stay in touch.
Before going out on a boat, tell someone onshore of your float plans.
Where you're going and how long you'll be gone. Having a radio
onboard is a good idea for checking weather reports. If you hear a storm
warning, get off the water as quickly as possible.
Life Jacket Types
Off-Shore Life Jacket best for open, rough, or remote waters where rescue
may not be immediate. Designed to turn an unconscious person face-up.
Near Shore Life Vest good for calm water where fast rescue is likely.
A good choice for children when equipped with a strap to buckle between
A Flotation Aid generally the most comfortable to wear for water sports.
Available in many colors and styles including vests and float coats. Will
not turn an unconscious person face-up.
A Throwable Device includes boat cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys.
Designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped to the chest, not worn.
A Special Use Device is intended for specific activities. May be used
instead of another PFD only if used according to conditions printed on
the label. A Type V life jacket may be used in place of any life jacket
if specifically approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for the activity in which
the wearer is engaged. The Type V life jacket must be worn at all times
to be acceptable.
This week's community health column is brought to you by Marcus Daly
Memorial Hospital and Ravalli County Public Health. For questions and
or comments, please contact Sheryl Schumacher, Ravalli County Public Health
at 406-375- 6675. Working together to build a healthier community!