Monday, August 8, 2011

Water Currents and Safety

With our local weather finally warming up, we need to remember our water safety.  Drowning is a quiet event and can happen with you within arms reach because the victim does not thrash about like they show on TV. Water currents are another swimming safety issue.

During one of  my children's swimming lessons, I watched what a drowning would look like with my son.  They were talking about water safety and learning to tread water.  Seeing that Sam was getting tired and starting to have difficulty keeping his head above water, the teacher told him to head over to the side of the pool.  He was so busy silently panicking that he didn't obey and continued treading water and dipping lower and lower in the pool.  The teacher had to physically assist him.  Because of that, she considered him a drowning risk even though he could swim laps with proper side breathing.

Yesterday, we got another lesson in water safety.  Fortunately, he was fine and only terrified after the incident.  We took the kids and our exchange students to swim/play in the Deschutes River in Pioneer Park in Tumwater.  There are a couple of small beach areas where people play along the shore; inner tubing down the river is popular.  We found one beach that looked to be a good place for our needs with a safe area for the littles, a deeper area of calm water and a down tree to jump down from, and some areas of currents that could carefully be enjoyed.  Only one area on the opposite shore looked to be a problem spot (and you guessed it, my son found it).

The area for the littles was only a few inches deep.  It was a small pool caused by a down tree that allowed just a little bit of water to trickle over, keeping it from being totally stagnant.  On the other side of the tree was a section of knee deep fast water that could be very carefully crossed by bigger kids and adults.  We kept the littles on the calm side.

If you look behind everyone, you'll see the calm area where the littles played.

Josh also played right at the water's edge.  He was venturing too far so I took him out to the current with me.   He was quite scared of how the water pulled at him so he never ventured more than about as deep as you see him here.

The deep area of calm water was the most fun.  You could walk across a downed tree and jump into a deep pool of calm water.  The big kids and adults all enjoyed jumping.

Here's Sam jumping from the tree.  You can see the currents to the left.  The area where he is jumping had no discernible current.

Anyway, Sam decided to float down the current like the inner tubers were and rather than staying in the shallow area, he went into the deep part that was swirling water around back upstream.  He got involuntarily pulled under.  Scott was watching him the entire time and saw him go under.  He came right back up in an instant and to the shallow area, but was completely freaked out and unable to get himself back to our side of the river.  In the right area, it was a simple walk across knee deep water that wasn't moving too fast, but he was really upset.  Had we not been watching the kids closely, it could have been bad.  He understands what we mean now but dangerous currents.  I hope the lesson sticks with him as he enters those teen years when boys like to hang out and play and take risks.   We did very much enjoy playing at this location in the river, but I won't be taking the kids back by myself; I need an extra set of eyes.  There's another beach where the water is slow, lazy, and shallow to enjoy.

Then yesterday, I got an email on a homeschool group's email loop.  A member's church's youth group went to Long Beach, WA which is known for it's unsafe swimming conditions.  There is one beach in a protective mini-cove that is "the only safe swimming beach in Long Beach".  A 12 year old got pulled under by the undertow and was in the water for 15-20 minutes.  When he was found, he was unconscious and not breathing.   His prognosis did not look good with lack of responsiveness and brain swelling.  They were thinking they might lose him or he might end up in a vegetative state.   Fortunately, he is exceeding the doctor's expectations greatly and things are looking up.  I hope he makes a full recovery.

Folks, please remember that rivers and oceans have dangers that children (and adults) don't always understand.  I grew up swimming in the ocean.  I'm comfortable with the waves and don't panic when pulled under.  I've been caught in a riptide when I was a preteen and followed the training I had in school about getting out.  But my children aren't the strongest swimmers and don't have the kind of experience.  Plus, the waters off Washington's coast are more dangerous than those found along California's southern shores.  I don't allow my kids to go deeper than mid-thigh (meaning the highest waves hit at mid-thigh) at the beach, keep my eyes on them at all times, and stay close.  At the river, we had life jackets on the littles the whole time and watched all of the kids closely.  Sam was only about 10 feet away when he went under.  Most of the area was only 12-18 inches deep with pockets 5-6 feet deep.  If he hadn't popped back up instantly, we would have been there almost as instantly.  Even still, it was scary.

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