Recent drownings demonstrate importance of water safety education.
by Bridget Chase
There is a high probability, if you are enjoying Maine’s natural environment, there is water nearby. Heck, Portland is a peninsula! Water is everywhere! Water safety matters.
Maine waters are cold. Unintentionally falling into the water can be life threatening. Swimming and basic water safety awareness are essential to ensure that outdoor experiences do not end in tragedy.
Vigilant supervision is needed when kids are in, on or around the water, according to Jerry Dworkin of Kennebunk’s Lifesaving Rescue Resources. Adults need to familiarize themselves with conducting basic shore rescues. They need to be realistic about their own swimming capabilities and the abilities of those being watched.
Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among youth between the ages of one and fourteen, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Statistics also show that the spirited fearlessness of boys put them at a greater risk of drowning.
These statistics are supported by the deaths of three Portland teenage boys in the recent past. One teen went kayaking without enough life preservers. Another boy went swimming alone. Another teen went swimming with friends in waters beyond his novice swimming abilities.
The instinctive drowning response is characterized by the absence of noise. The person slips under the water, rather than yelling and flaying their arms as commonly portrayed on TV. Fast action is critical. A person generally struggles above the water for no more than sixty seconds before submerging for good.
What can you do?
- Learn to swim and learn basic water safety…. You are never too old to learn! The Recreation Department offers lessons for all ages, year-round at a variety of times to accommodate as many schedules as possible. Go to portlandmaine.gov673/Aquatics or call 874-8456. The YMCA is also another good resource, ymcaofsouthernmaine.org or 874-1111.
- Never swim alone or in water beyond your swimming ability. Swim buddies and water watchers from the shore or poolside should make sure they can see and reach their partners. Call out to a swimmer if you are concerned.
- Wear a life preserver approved by the U.S. Coast Guard when boarding a boat, canoe or kayak. Even the strongest swimmer may need help if they fall into Maine’s cold waters.
WEN has a dream.
Swimming is a safety skill that will stay with children for the rest of their lives. It is also a good form of exercise to combat the obesity crisis facing school-age children. According to Scholastic Teacher, new brain research identifies positive links between physical activity and learning.
In Portland there are two schools that have pools, at Reiche and Riverton Elementary schools. Yet too few elementary students use them to learn how to swim. The School Committee de-funded swimming lessons from the curriculum in 2000. The West End Neighborhood Association’s Swim for Life program ensures that at least two grades have swimming lessons during the academic year.
Wouldn’t it be great to see City Manager Jon Jennings convene a meeting with representatives from the schools, Recreation Department, Healthy Portland and other potential partners to find common ground? It is time to ensure more of the City’s residents are prepared for life around the water.
Bridget Chase is a freelance writer who lives in the West End and loves it.