News: Recreational water safety key
Story by Lance Cpl. Ian McMahon
CAMP FOSTER, Japan — It is soon to be summer, and the beach is looking more appealing as a nice place to sit and enjoy time off. Before wading out into the waters of Okinawa, everyone should know what precautions to take.
Unlike the U.S., where motor vehicle collisions cause the highest loss of life for of service members, the leading cause of death among service members on Okinawa is drowning, said Shawn M. Curtis, the deputy safety director for the installation.
Since 2000, there have been 30 military deaths from drowning on Okinawa. More than half of the deaths were caused by inattention to sea conditions and currents, according to Curtis.
However, if the right safety precautions are taken, water activities in Okinawa can be very enjoyable.
“Okinawa has world-class water activities and locations for diving and snorkeling,” said Curtis. “However, everyone needs to be aware of the necessary steps to avoid and prevent any accidents.”
Beachgoers should refer to local weather and sea conditions before arriving at their destinations, as Okinawa’s weather can change with little to no warning. While at the beach, swimmers must be aware of the conditions in their immediate area, said Curtis.
Powerful currents, called riptides, can pull swimmers away from shore and into deep water in seconds.
“Riptides are the number-one cause of drowning,” said Curtis. “Even the strongest swimmers can be taken away by these currents.”
Under the water, snorkelers, swimmers and scuba divers may encounter wildlife which can be dangerous.
“If you are unsure of exactly what creature is in front of you, don’t touch it,” said Curtis. “The most harmful of creatures is the box jellyfish, which migrates here from Australia in August.”
With all these dangers, the water may not seem worth the risk, but precautions can be taken to remain safe.
“American Forces Network TV and radio and the Weather Channel’s website consistently post the sea condition,” said Curtis. “If the sea condition is ‘danger,’ all military personnel are prohibited from entering the water.”
After checking the conditions, plan where to swim. Those planning to enter the water should do so at a familiar location or popular site frequented by others.
“The best advice for engaging in water activities is to study the conditions of the area that the swimmers will be using,” said Curtis. “Some important indicators that the area could be dangerous are the presence of rip currents and obstructions close to the entry or exit.”
If there is any reason for concern, it is best to stay on shore or find a safer area.
Other ways to stay safe include notifying someone of your location and what time you’ll be back, and maintaining the buddy system, according to III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific Order 5101.1.
For more information, contact the Marine Corps Base Camp Butler Installation Safety Office at 645-2651.