Health: Stay Safe on the Water

Water Safety / AY Magzine

Water safety and injury prevention


Arkansas has more than 600,000 acres of lakes and more than 9,700 miles of rivers and streams, and on a typical summer weekend these waters are filled with boaters.

On many summer Saturdays, the Bennett family heads to the lake or river for a day on the water. When Brittany Bennett, mom of five, loads up her children for a day on the water, she said, life jackets are nonnegotiable. She meticulously prepares them for the trip by inspecting each life jacket to make sure it fits and is in safe condition.


“Life jackets are a must for kids, and the only time I let them go without is when we are at a beach area,” said Bennett, who is also wellness coordinator for Cedar Ridge School District.

There are also several other nonnegotiable issues on which she won’t budge.

“Drinking lots of water is very important while in the sun and especially on the water. Soda and flavored drinks will make you seem more dehydrated. Swim lessons are important, too. It gives the kids confidence. Sunscreen is also important.”

In Arkansas, children 12 and under must wear United States Coast Guard-approved life jackets when they are in a boat or the water. According to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Statewide Injury Prevention Program, making sure the life jacket fits your child properly is important. Fasten all straps or zip the life jacket, and pull up on the jacket from the shoulders. If the jacket can be lifted above the chin, it’s too large. There also must be a Coast Guard-approved jacket for everyone on board the boat, regardless of age.

“Keep those life jackets on, especially kids,” said Keith Stephens, chief of communications at Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). “In the event of an accident, those life jackets will keep you afloat, especially if you hit your head, and you’re knocked out. They’ll keep you upright.”


People born after Jan. 1, 1986 are required to take a training course on boat safety in order to operate a personal watercraft. AGFC offers the safety course. Boating is a fun pasttime; however, it can be dangerous, and this course can help minimize accidents on the water.

“Know the area where you’re boating,” Stephens said. “The Corps of Engineers posts warnings when flood waters are high. If water is up in the lake, there may be areas where things are usually above the water that are now below. Stay attentive.”

Stephens also urges boaters to be aware of signs that they should get off the water, such as fatigue, getting overheated or any other situation where reactions could be slowed.

For more information on AGFC’s boating safety class, log on to, or call 501.776.0218, ext. 24.


“Having a swimming pool is a scary thing,” Bennett said about having a backyard pool. “Lots of eyes must be on the kids at all times, and swimming lessons are a must.”

In the time it takes to run to answer a phone call, a child could drown in a pool or spa. Drownings and drain entrapments happen quickly. It’s important that anyone watching children in the pool or spa knows how to swim, can perform CPR on children and adults and understand the basic life-saving skills.

Practicing safety measures can prevent drowning deaths. If you have a pool, create a safety toolkit and keep it, along with a phone to call 911, nearby.

Items to keep in a safety toolkit:

  • first aid kit
  • flotation device
  • scissors to cut clothing, hair or pool cover

To learn more about pool safety, visit


The most common injury on the water is drowning.

“Arkansas is seventh in the nation when it comes to drowning for those 17 and under,” said Joe Schaffner, outreach coordinator for the Injury Prevention Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Schaffner said one way to prevent drowning in children 5 and younger is to always be within an arm’s reach of the child.

“Caregivers should be attentive when children are in pools, bathtubs or anywhere near water,” Schaffer said. “A young child can drown in just inches of water.” He said male teens are more likely to drown because they more often participate in precarious activities.

“Once children learn to swim, teach them not to engage in risky behavior, such as swimming in rivers with heavy currents and jumping into lakes not knowing the depth,” Schaffner said. “Adults need to show model behavior: don’t do drugs; don’t drink alcohol; and always wear a life jacket on the water.”

More rare issues are dry and secondary drowning. Schaffner said it’s “super, super rare,” but it can happen.

According to the WebMD website, with dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs, but it is breathed in and causes the vocal chords to spasm and close. This usually happens within 1 to 24 hours after a child leaves the water. The site also notes secondary drowning happens when the airways open up and allow water into the lungs. It builds up and causes pulmonary edema.

The symptoms are coughing, chest pain, trouble breathing and feeling extremely tired. Most often these symptoms go away, but if a child experiences these symptoms after being in water, a medical evaluation is advised.

For more information on injury and prevention, log on to the ACH website at, or call 866.611.3445.

Keeping these simple safety tips in mind can keep your family safe, making water activities more fun for everyone.

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