It’s possible that dozens of people will die from drowning today. The CDC says that roughly 3,960 people die from drowning in pools, lakes, beaches, and other bodies of water every year, which amounts to nearly a dozen every day. In reality, drowning is seasonal—far more people die in the summer than any other time.
“I know how to swim, though,” you might say. And that’s good—but experts say that doesn’t mean you know how to survive a potential drowning. In fact, 66% of drowning victims knew how to swim when they died. Our goal with today’s article is to use the news to highlight the actual reasons people suffer drowning accidents. It’s not inexperience or even lack of fitness; in many cases, it’s simply a lack of warning.
Man Drowns While Friend Runs Errand
In a story that occurred just a day ago, two friends were swimming in the Deschutes River in Oregon. One of them left to run an errand; the other—a 37-year-old male—decided to keep swimming. When the first man came back from his errand, his friend was gone. His body was found shortly afterward by authorities.
There are a couple of notable facts reflected in this case: one, males of all ages are far more at risk for fatal drownings. Roughly 80% of all drowning victims are male. Two, swimming alone is a major factor in drownings, according to the CDC. Drowning is much quicker and quieter than people realize.
7 Teenage Boys Drown in Single Month in the UK
In a country that only saw 28 drowning deaths in 2019, there have been an astounding 7 drownings since July 5. The culprit? The recent heatwave has made teenagers desperate for a way to cool down, which has led to swimming in industrial reservoirs and other dangerous bodies of water. One of the boys was a gifted boxer, showing that drowning can happen to anybody regardless of physical strength or stamina.
The UK’s data on drowning accidents find that teenage boys are the most likely to die from drowning in hot weather. The recent heatwave has only worsened the situation; to illustrate how desperate to cool down people are, there were boys swimming in the quay while authorities pulled a body from the water.
What could cause physically fit teenage athletes to drown in relatively still water? Authorities believe cold water shock is a likely cause. Jumping into water 59 degrees or colder causes the heart rate to spike, which causes involuntarily gasping. If someone jumps into cold water from a height, it’s likely that they’ll involuntarily inhale while still under, causing them to drown. People are more susceptible to cold water shock in hot weather.
14 People Drown in Single Week in Saudi Arabia
A report from Saudi Arabia reveals that 14 people drowned in separate incidents across the country. In three of these incidents, the drowning was ultimately caused by attempted rescues. In one incident, four friends attempted to rescue a fifth friend who fell into a hole after heavy rains. All five drowned.
In another incident, four people drowned—including a well-respected doctor—when two adult women tried to rescue two girls from enormous waves at a beach.
In yet another incident, a professor on vacation with his family died trying to save his son from drowning.
These stories underscore another aspect of drowning: the necessity of trained and equipped rescue professionals. Without them, attempting to rescue a drowning person—no matter how noble—is more likely to result in multiple fatalities than in a successful rescue.
Arkansas Judge Drowns in Solo Swimming Incident
A 48-year-old Arkansas judge was vacationing with family at a cabin near Mud Lake about 75 miles southeast of Little Rock when he decided to take a solo ride on a recreational vehicle. When he didn’t return, his family called the authorities. His body was found in the lake shortly afterward.
The authorities don’t know for certain what happened, but they don’t suspect foul play. His family believes he went swimming alone after his solo ride to wash the dust off when he drowned.
It’s important to note here that, while children and teens are the most likely age group to drown, it’s just as easy for adults to die when swimming unsupervised. No situation or amount of swimming experience should make any adult feel confident enough to swim alone.
Man Drowns in Boating Accident
July is the peak season for recreation on the water, and that’s a fine thing; what’s important is remembering that there are some safety rules that aren’t “just for show.” One tragic example of the importance of practicing basic safety comes from Lake Tobesofkee in Georgia. A 31-year-old man was inner tubing behind his friend’s boat without a life vest when he fell off and went under.
His friend immediately dove in to save him, but he cut himself on the propeller and was unable to get to him. The man’s body was recovered from the lake the next day.
It’s not clear if he chose not to wear a life vest or if there wasn’t one available, but there’s a key detail about boating and swimming most people forget: spending all day in the hot sun is exhausting. People may not feel the effects of heat exhaustion while relaxing in a boat, but once they’re fighting for their lives in the water, exhaustion could cost them dearly. That’s why it’s vital to provide a life vest to every passenger, regardless of the situation.
California Man Dies While Snorkeling in Hawaii’s “Drowning Capital”
In June, a middle-aged man from California was found unresponsive in the water of Puu Kekaa in Maui with his snorkeling equipment. Lifeguards reported no signs of distress
His death is not unique; roughly half of the tourist fatalities in Hawaii are due to drowning, and hundreds of those deaths have occurred while snorkeling. However, the immediate cause of snorkeling deaths is not inhaling water.
A Department of Health study from 2019 looked at the causes of death for snorkeling fatalities in Hawaii, and they found that the culprit is actually rapid onset pulmonary edema (ROPE). ROPE causes fluid buildup in the lungs, which means the body gets less oxygen than it needs. Hypoxia sets in, eventually causing the victim to lose consciousness in the water.
Part of the issue is that snorkeling naturally restricts breathing slightly; however, snorkeling is still safe for most people. The other part of the issue is that low oxygenation is a natural side effect of long-distance air travel, which is why snorkeling fatalities chiefly affect tourists. The third part is that the highest risk group for ROPE are men with heart conditions, typically middle-aged men.
60-Year-Old Inner Tuber Dies in Washington Rapids
In a story similar to the one above, a group of inner tubers decided to try the rapids near Dryden Dam in Washington. Due to their inexperience with the area (or perhaps the failure of local inner tubing services to provide life vests), no one was wearing a life vest. At some point, a 60-year-old member of their group got separated by the rapids and couldn’t get himself to shore. He was tragically pulled under, despite his best efforts.
Chelan County—where the incident took place—has seen five drownings this year alone, which is a record according to local authorities. Two-thirds of drownings in the area happened to people without a life vest.
4 Drownings Within Hours of Each Other in Lake Michigan
On July 13, there were 4 separate drowning incidents on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The victims, all male, were 33, 7, 16, and 74 years old. Three of the drownings occurred as a result of a riptide that swept swimmers away from the beach. The 74-year-old victim drowned after falling out of his boat in the marina.
According to authorities, the conditions on Lake Michigan were exceptionally dangerous that day, although it didn’t begin that way. Winds from the north create dangerous conditions for swimmers, who often drown as a result of fatigue due to fighting the current. The fatality count for Lake Michigan is 26 thus far this year.
How to Prevent Drowning
When it comes to saving yourself from drowning, swimming skills, physical fitness, or the aid of fellow swimmers may not make a difference. So how do you save yourself from drowning? Experts say the best way is to float on your back and inhale as deeply as possible to make yourself buoyant. Floating on your back saves your strength; if you’re caught in a current, don’t fight it. If you’re able, try to swim slowly across the current, not against it.
The key point is that the human body, no matter how strong, will expend itself if you fight too hard. Instead, allow yourself to relax and float.
Here are the other points to take from the above stories:
- Never swim alone
- Only swim in open water while supervised by a professional
- Always wear a life vest
- Avoid jumping into excessively cold water
- If you’re exhausted, stay near the shore
If you follow those tips, you’ll increase your odds of avoiding accidents on the water.