With "civilian" fireworks displays a thing of the past -- please! -- water-loving Quad-Citians are impatient to cram as much fun as they can into what's left of the flood-soaked summer of 2019.
That makes Wednesday's effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to draw attention to water safety during the long holiday weekend particularly timely. As those agencies well know, water-related accidents and fatalities can happen anytime, and especially when waters are high and our rivers are swift.
Just a little over two weeks ago, for example, David Mitchell, 35, of Rockford, drowned after falling into the Mississippi River near Lock & Dam 14.
Last June, the Rock River claimed the life of 5-year-old Maci Jade Chavez, after the canoe she was riding in capsized and she was pulled into the current near the Steel Dam at Milan. Last July, the body of 2-year-old Hawk Newberry was recovered from the Mississippi River two weeks after he fell from a dock at Rock Island’s Schwiebert Riverfront Park. Maci was wearing a lifejacket. Hawk was not wearing one. Neither are 84.5% of drowning victims, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Monika Spies.
“At the best of times, the Mississippi River can pose a risk for swimmers or boaters,” she warned. And these are not the best of times for swollen area waterways. That make's wearing lifejackets even more essential.
According to the Corps’ National Operations Center for Water Safety, the greatest number of water-related fatalities involved people swimming in areas not designated for swimming, and 27 percent of boating fatalities involved people falling overboard. Not worried about that because you're a good swimmer? Think again. Overconfidence can be deadly if it leads swimmers to take risks they shouldn't. The same is true of alcohol consumption, which can make even so-so swimmers feel capable of doing things they can't. Open waters and underwater debris also can present dangers even the most experienced, sober swimmer can't overcome.
Those are among the things that led to the 4,291 water-related accidents, 2,629 injuries and 658 deaths catalogued by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017.
These are more than just numbers. They represent lives lost and others changed forever in accidents that very often could have been avoided by following safety tips like these gleaned from government agencies, public health organizations and the insurance industry:
-- Wear a lifejacket on or near the water.
-- Know how to swim.
-- If your kids can't swim, sign them up for classes, now!
-- Provide close, constant attention to children in, on, or near water.
-- Pools and natural waterways are different. Treat them accordingly.
-- Swim only in lifeguarded areas.
-- Don't swim too far out. Know your limits, and swim with a buddy.
-- Never dive headfirst into anything but the deep end of a crystal clear swimming pool.
-- Know and follow the rules of the waterway you're boating on or swimming in.
-- Boat and swim only when sober.
To find out more, visit https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/summer/boating and https://www.uscgboating.org/.