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Avoid an Emergency With These Swimming and Boating Safety Tips

Updated June 03, 2024
boating safety tips

A little bit of common sense can go a long way in keeping families safe at the pool or beach this summer. Westerly Hospital Emergency Department Director Nader Bahadory, DO, says having extra safety equipment on hand, keeping an eye on vulnerable loved ones, and avoiding dangerous situations on the water can keep people out of the hospital.

“Enjoy the water, have fun, but pay attention to the environment around you and be responsible for the people that are not as agile in the water as you are,” Dr. Bahadory said.

He gave some tips on how to stay safe during those last weeks of summer.

What are the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat related illnesses are on a continuum, starting with dehydration and progressing to heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke. Heat stroke is a serious condition that could lead to seizures and kidney failure.

The earlier warning signs of dehydration can include nausea, headache, cramps and when someone stops sweating. The dry skin increases body temperature, which can lead to heat stroke.

More severe symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke can include confusion and altered mental status. It is important to be on the lookout for warning signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in older patients who may be more vulnerable to the summer temperatures. Some medications may also prevent them from sweating, causing them to become dehydrated faster.

Can bacteria in the water at the beach make people sick?

Bacteria is everywhere, not just in the water. Swimming at the beach is unlikely to cause someone to get sick. However, a deep cut or wound could get infected by bacteria like vibrio, which can be found in the region. Thankfully, because the water is cold in Connecticut and Rhode Island, there is less bacteria in the water compared to warmer climates.

What should people do if they get stung by a jellyfish?

Most of the time, a jellyfish sting may be uncomfortable but not serious. The best thing to do is to remove any debris or remaining jellyfish from the exposed skin and wash the area in the salt water. Be careful removing extra pieces of jellyfish because they can still fire when removing them. If you are concerned about an allergic reaction with symptoms such as shortness of breath, rash or trouble swallowing, go to the emergency department.

How can people stay safe while boating?

Pay attention to the environment around you. There are other people that are probably not as careful as you are, so you need to be prepared for the actions of other boaters. Taking a boating safety course is a good first step, keep enough life jackets on board for everyone and don’t drink while boating. Alcohol use is frequently linked to boating accidents and can make you more prone to heat related illnesses.

“Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you urinate more and if you’re drinking alcohol, you’re not drinking water and that’s a double whammy to become more dehydrated,” said Dr. Bahadory.

What is dry drowning?

“Dry drowning” is a term that refers to when a patient inhales water and has a spasm of the upper airway and larynx. When this happens, their upper airway closes, making it difficult to breathe. However, no water enters the lungs, which is why it’s referred to as “dry.” Symptoms come on quickly and can include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion or signs of worsening mental status or confusion.

“Secondary drowning” happens when a patient is submerged and ultimately water enters the lungs, causing injury. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, coughing and chest discomfort that can worsen hours later due to the ingestion of water.

“Dry drowning” and “secondary drowning” are not official medical terms, but both can be serious. If a parent notices their child is exhibiting symptoms, they should seek emergency medical care right away and if their child appears to be in distress, call 9-1-1.

How can people stay safe while swimming?

Pay attention to your surroundings, including the flow of the water and any undercurrents. Strong currents can catch even experienced swimmers off guard.

Adults should also keep a close eye on kids at the pool or beach. If there are too many kids and not enough adults, someone could get lost in the mix, so always have enough chaperones present anytime there’s water involved. Children can drown even in very shallow water so constant supervision is critical. Caregivers may also benefit from a water safety course.

Use common sense anytime water is present. If the current is too strong, stay out of the water. If the temperatures are too hot, make sure vulnerable loved ones are staying cool and hydrated.