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The Army Corps of Engineers announced that more than 30 people lost their lives to drowning in June at lake and river projects the agency manages, which represent a 47 percent increase in drownings over the same time last year. Also, nearly all the drowning victims were adult males between ages 18-85 and were not wearing a life jacket when they drowned.

“With some public beaches and community pools closed due to the pandemic, we are finding more people this summer are swimming, wading, floating, and playing in open water areas, like lakes, rivers, ponds, etc., not designated for swimming,” said Pam Doty, USACE National Water Safety Program manager.

“July is when we normally see the most water-related accidents and fatalities, so there is even more reason to be concerned this year,” added Doty. “We have a continuous, water-safety awareness program at our lake and river projects and stress a number of things to be aware of, before swimming in open waters.”

Most adults who drown in open water knew how to swim and exceeded or overestimated their swimming abilities. Most people learn to swim in a pool, where they can easily reach the sides or push off the bottom, when they need a break. There are no sides to grab onto in open water and the bottom can be several feet below you, which can make taking a break and relaxing hard, unless you are wearing a life jacket.

When swimming or wading along a shoreline, there might be a deep drop-off just a few feet away, at more than 100 feet deep at some lakes.

Some who have become exhausted while swimming overestimated their ability or never learned proper breathing techniques for swimming. Holding your breath too long while swimming or over-breathing by taking several deep breaths in a row (hyperventilating), before a swim can cause shallow-water blackout.

Shallow-water blackout causes people to faint or blackout in the water, and drown. A simple description of what makes that happen is that it’s the result of low oxygen to your brain. Shallow-water blackout often happens to people who know how to swim well, because they deny their body’s desire to inhale for too long. Once someone loses consciousness, water enters the lungs, causing them to drown.

Some adults are hesitant to tell their friends they cannot swim very well. In a pool, they can get away with that mentality, easier than in open water. In open waters, even strong swimmers can become exhausted and drown. Wave action and currents also make it difficult to float in open water. Also, if you don’t swim often, swimming ability decreases with age.

Some people may know how to float, but don’t think about survival floating when they panic.

Carbon monoxide and life jackets

Carbon monoxide

• Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector on your boat. 

• Turn off the boat’s engine and other carbon monoxide-producing equipment, when anchored. Always maintain a fresh circulation of air through and around your boat. 

• Avoid areas of your boat where exhaust fumes may be. 

• Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform.

Life jackets

• Wearing a life jacket drastically increases survival chances. 

• When swimming, wading, floating, or playing in open water, wear a life jacket that fits properly. Some people say that you cannot swim in a life jacket, but that is not true. The belt-style, inflatable life jacket that is manually inflated is ideal for open-water swimmers. 

• When you need it, pull the inflation cord, let it inflate, and put it over your head. An oral inflation tube is provided on all inflatable life jackets as a backup inflation. 

• Non- or weak swimmers should not wear an inflatable life jacket, but should consider a vest-style life jacket.