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Swimming Safety Brief

Losses

Navy and Marine Corps losses involving swimming for FY 91 through 95 include 32 fatalities. The deaths are from drowning. Injuries commonly involve the face, neck, shoulder, and leg.

Background

A review of swimming mishaps show a variety of factors contribute to the typical mishap. Too many people mistakenly consider themselves skilled swimmers, and therefore safe from the possibility of an accident. Seldom do they consider the consequences of cold water, sudden immersion, waves, currents, alcohol and fatigue. Overestimation of ability and underestimation of the effects of such conditions are the leading causes of drowning and disabling injuries. Alcohol and swimming accidents go hand in hand. Alcohol lessens alertness and the sense of balance that are crucial to accident-free swimming. This can occur with as little as one or two drinks.

Examples

Typical mishap reports received at the Naval Safety Center are as follows:

  • AN was with two companions when they decided to go swimming in the ocean. He was the only one to enter the ocean at night. No lifeguard was present. The water temperature was 60 F, air temperature 51F, and the wind at 1 knot. He was only wearing shorts. AN disappeared in about 5 minutes. He died from drowning as a result of hypothermia.
  • BM1 was swimming in hotel's pool. Pool conditions were reported by witnesses as cloudy to the point where the bottom could not be seen. No lifeguard was on duty. Victim was swimming laps underwater and seemed to become winded. Victim was pulled out of the pool. He drowned when CPR failed to revive him.
  • PO2 and LCDR waded inside a protective reef when a rip tide and undertow swept them over the reef and out to sea. They maintained contact for a short period of time. A boat rescued the LCDR a mile out from shore. The LCDR survived. The PO2 drowned.

Recommendations

Assessing the risks along with making risk decisions and implementing controls to eliminate swimming mishaps are as follows:

  • Learn to swim well enough to survive an emergency.
  • Always swim with a buddy who has the ability to help you in an emergency.
  • Swim only in supervised areas.
  • Follow the safety rules for the particular pool or beach area. Pay attention to warnings about local hazards such as currents.
  • Know your limitations and don't overestimate your ability.
  • Stay out of the water when overheated, immediately after eating, and during an electrical storm.
  • Check the water depth before diving into the water.
  • Keep a safe distance from diving boards and platforms.
  • Don't substitute inflated tubes, air mattresses or other artificial supports for swimming ability. If a flotation device is needed as a safety aid, use a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.
  • Learn the simple and safe reaching-rescue techniques. Only certified lifeguards should dive in to rescue a drowning victim. The American Red Cross offers courses in water rescue.
  • Avoid overexposure to the sun. Use plenty of sun screen lotion.

Sources:

American National Red Cross 
17th and D Streets, N. W. 
Washington, DC 20006

National Water Safety Congress 
5313 Dunleer Lane 
Burke, VA 22015

National Board YMCA
101 N. Walker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606

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