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Three Tips to Stay Safe In and Around Water

Joy Diaz/KUT News
Just like responsible drinkers assign a 'designated driver,' responsible swimmers should also have someone assigned to 'watch duty' on a rotating basis

Most drownings are among those "preventable" tragedies. And yet, not everyone knows which precautions to take to prevent such accidents. In Texas alone, 73 kids died last year in the water. And adults are just as vulnerable. So, here are 3 tips to make your water gatherings more enjoyable.

1. Be Vigilant, Stay Vigilant 

Veteran lifeguard Tod Reach says water conditions are different in Hawaii, where he worked for years, than they are in Austin. But his advice holds true whether at the beach, at a pool or in a bathtub. Reach sits outside Deep Eddy Pool in Austin as he repeats: "Vigilance is one of the most important things," because, as he says, a drowning "can happen in a second." Reach says in his years as a lifeguard he's seen even skilled swimmers perish. Some were young, some were elderly and they were all from different races. Reach says the most traumatic drowning he's ever experienced happened to a Navy Seal during training. 

2. Have 'designated watchers' 

Just like responsible drinkers assign a "designated driver," responsible swimmers should also have someone assigned to "watch duty" on a rotating basis. That way, everyone can enjoy the water. The City of Austin's Aquatic Manager Wayne Simmons says it's a precaution people should start incorporating in water gatherings, because "it only takes a small amount of water. [Even] an inch, depending on the size of the individual, can place a significant hazard."

3. Learn the signs of a drowning

Professional Austin Swimmer Heidi Armstrong says often when lifeguards are training, the people acting as though they are drowning "are thrashing around everywhere and screaming." Real drownings, however, look different. For one, Armstrong says, "the body's reflexes shut down, and so there is no shouting, there's nothing, the person just goes under in silence."

So, to wrap things up: Be vigilant, have a designated watcher and know the signs. Those precautions can help prevent a disaster while playing in and around water. To take things a step further, you could learn some water rescue tips from the folks at the city's Aquatic Department. This summer they are teaching kids as young as 10 the skills to make water rescues.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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