Keep Your Family Safe at the Lake This Summer

For most people in North Texas, summer means the start of boating season and heading to the lake with friends and family. Water safety should be on everyone’s mind this season.

In 2016,the U.S. Coast Guard reports that there were 176 boating accidents in Texas, resulting in 83 injuries and 48 fatalities. Texas has the second-highest rate of boating-related fatalities in the United States, behind Florida, and The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) reports that nearly 85 percent of victims are not wearing a life jacket during an accident, a sobering fact considering the No. 1 known cause of death related to a boating accident is drowning.

“Swimming in a lake is different from taking a dip in your backyard or neighborhood pool,” said Dr. Mark Till, director of Emergency Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “As with any natural body of water, it’s important to consider every factor.”

According to TPWD, everyone should wear a Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD) when boating, and all children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket. But don’t confuse pool toys or “floaties” as an appropriate PFD. These toys are not life jackets, and therefore are not designed to keep swimmers safely floating above the water.

Wearing a life jacket is not enough to protect you or your family. Integrate the “Buddy System,” and designate at least one adult to keep on eye on everyone who is in the water, especially children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning victims rarely call for help or wave their arms, making drowning a silent killer. It’s also a fast killer. Within three minutes, or the time it takes you to reapply sunscreen or grab your phone, most people become unconscious.

“It’s important for someone else to know where you are, but it’s even better to have someone with you at all times,” said Dr. David Smith, medical director for trauma at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “That person can call for help in case of an emergency.”

Drinking responsibly is a good rule of thumb for any situation, but especially while on the water. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Additionally, boaters caught driving a boat while intoxicated can be jailed up to 180 days and/or be fined as much as $2,000. These boaters also risk having their driver’s license suspended.

Last but not least, know your surroundings, whether you’re a lake veteran or a first-timer. Don’t dive into water, especially if you can’t see the bottom. If the water is more shallow than you anticipate, diving into it can result in spinal cord injuries, life-long paralysis or even death. Also be aware of any fast-moving currents or waves, even in shallow water.

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