Many are looking to start off their summer with a splash, whether that be at the city pool or the river. But even while having fun, it’s important to remember that water comes with certain risks, said Melissa Parker, the river access and conservation team leader at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Rivers are inherently dangerous,” Parker said. “That’s their job — to move water and sediment down that stream column. At any given time, there may be something different in there.”
She said that means that it’s critical to be aware of what’s in the water, as well as be aware that it could sweep people away, too. That’s why river-goers should be conscious of their own skills and make sure they only go into areas of the river they are confident they can handle.
“Don’t go jumping or diving in unless you know that nothing is in your way,” Parker said. “Get your feel for it — understand what is in the water before you go splashing in full-force.”
Rosa Ledesma, the city of Kerrville’s Parks and Recreation Department specialist, said that no matter what body of water, drowning is a real risk, and it doesn’t look like what’s shown in the movies.
“Drowning can get to anyone, even the most experienced swimmers,” said Ledesma, who oversees the city’s aquatic operations, including the Olympic Pool. “Most of the time, it’s very silent. They’ll go under the water without having said anything or yelling or screaming, and it’s not what you see in the movies or how people portray it to be.”
Even though everyone reacts a little differently, drowners often tilt their face up with their mouth at the surface of the water and gasp for air, Ledesma said. They may also have a vertical body position and have little to no movement in their legs. If they are moving their arms, it is often in a motion that is similar to climbing a ladder.
Ledesma added that those with the highest risk of drowning tend to be children ages 12 and younger, children wearing life jackets and elderly people.
“Make sure parents are watching their children,” she said. “Make sure that you’re there within arms reach.”
Regardless if you are a child or you’re swimming with children, Ledesma said swimming with a buddy is the most important thing to remember in addition to wearing a properly fitted life jacket, especially for those who are not strong swimmers.
“Make sure you provide life jackets, but making sure that the life jacket fits properly is a huge thing, because you can get a life jacket that is too big for a kid, and they can slip out of the jacket or it can come undone, and then it’s not put to use or helpful at all,” Ledesma said.
Both Ledesma and Parker said that it can be dangerous to rely on arm floaties.
“A lot of times, people try to put on those little floaties,” Parker said. “Those don’t really help — they can slip off, or they can get popped.”
Ledesma said if a life-jacket wearer gets in the water and the jacket lifts off of their shoulders, then it is not properly fitted. The jacket must stay snug and completely buckled, snapped and strapped. U.S. Coast Guard-certified life jackets will have weight ranges to help with sizing.
When encountering someone drowning, the most important thing, Ledesma said, is to call 911. Secondly, before jumping in for the rescue, people must make sure they’re not putting themselves at risk.
“You’ve heard of instances where people see kids drowning, and they jump in to save the kids, but then they drown because the current is too strong and it takes them,” Ledesma said.
After pulling a drowning person out of the water, opening up their airway is critical, she said. Think of straightening out a bent straw.
“The body wants to live; the body will do everything it can to try to survive, so if you open the airway, most of the time that’s all you need to do,” Ledesma said. “They’ll throw up all the water, or the lungs will start to breathe, and they’ll cough.”
When swimming in the river, it’s also especially important to wear protective water shoes that cover the toes, and get out of the water if there is thunder, lightning or a combination of the two.
For more information about water safety, visit tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/rivers/safety.phtml.