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    Know Before You Go Into Open Waters

    Know Before You Go Into Open Waters Blog Header

    Photo By Pamela Doty | By Pam Doty read more read more



    Story by Pamela Doty 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety

    If you’re one of the many people who go to warm-weather destinations to enjoy some time in or around the water with friends or family, these are some of the things you need to know before you go. Some of these tips I’ve learned from my own personal experiences. Others are from people I’ve met during my over 31-year career as a park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where part of my job involved tracking water-related fatalities nationwide.

    I’ve lived throughout the Midwest all my life. As a young adult on a vacation to the coast, I survived being caught in a rip current and I had never even heard of such a thing. It happened when I was wading along the ocean shore in water that was much less than knee deep. At the time, I was a very strong swimmer, but suddenly a wave pulled me out into the ocean and I could not swim straight back to the shore. My friends on shore were all laughing because they were oblivious as to what was happening to me. Miraculously, they were walking on the shore up ahead of me so I was trying to get back to them. That put me swimming in their direction, which paralleled the shore. I found out afterwards that swimming parallel to shore is what you’re supposed to do if you get caught in a rip current.

    Since then, I’ve also learned that rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can be found anywhere there are breaking waves. In the U.S., rip currents can happen on any coastal waters and along shores of the Great Lakes. Strong currents can also happen around hard structures, like jetties, piers, or even rocks. Rip currents occur more often at low tide and in any kind of weather. It’s a good idea to learn how to identify and avoid all types of strong currents before you go and there are numerous videos of rip currents on the internet that show you how to do that. Another good idea is to never swim alone and keep an eye on each other. Swimming only in areas designated as safe for swimming is best. Many beaches have flags with different colors and symbols or signage notifying people of hazardous conditions. Learn what the flags mean for where you’re going. To get more information about rip currents and beach forecasts visit

    As a park ranger, I always told people to never swim alone for obvious reasons, but it wasn’t until later in my career when I learned another reason why that is so critical. That reason is called shallow water blackout and it can happen in open waters such as a lake, river, or ocean and in swimming pools. Shallow water blackout is a condition that happens from holding your breath too long while swimming or over breathing by taking several deep breaths in a row (hyperventilating) before a swim. This can cause you to faint or blackout from low oxygen to your brain. Interestingly, this often happens to people who know how to swim well, like those who free dive. Once someone loses consciousness, the body reacts and water enters the lungs, causing drowning death, if not rescued immediately. Simple games that people play that involve breath holding underwater and swimming challenges can be deadly. To learn more about how to recognize and prevent shallow water blackout, visit

    Another common, but unsafe thing that people do, is jump and dive into open waters. Doing that anywhere you can’t see what’s under the water’s surface can be deadly. Plus, just because someone else did it without a problem, doesn’t mean it will work out well for you too. At a lake near me, a guy jumped into the water and was impaled by a stick that went through his rectum. Miraculously he survived, but I imagine his life was changed forever. I’ve heard of many others who were strong swimmers that jumped into open waters and never came back up for reasons that were never determined. It’s best to limit your jumping or diving to deep ends of swimming pools where you can see what’s underwater.

    In summary, if you’re going to visit places with open waters, it’s critical to learn how to identify and avoid rip currents, shallow-water blackout, and don’t jump or dive into waters where you can’t see what’s underwater. Wearing a life jacket whenever you’re in, on, or near the water increases your chances of surviving a mishap and returning home safely to your loved ones. Share these tips; you could save someone’s life!



    Date Taken: 05.05.2020
    Date Posted: 05.05.2020 19:17
    Story ID: 369286
    Location: US

    Web Views: 71
    Downloads: 0