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May is Water Safety Month – A Reminder of the Hazards of Water

We cannot live without water: Most of the planet is water. We need to drink water to survive. The average adult is about 50% to 65% water. Many of us want to live on the shore, on a lake or close to a babbling brook. If all else fails, we can install a pool.  But all too often people are seriously injured or killed in or around water

Though water gives us life and a vacation around water gets us back on an even keel, we need to be wary of water. It has the power of life and death. It restores us but can also injure us if we’re not careful. This month is National Water Safety Month, a time to think about the dangers of water before we jump in.

Boating accidents

New Jersey Boat Accident LawyerHow big is boating? There are about 12 million boats in the U.S., according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. An estimated 87.3 million people participated in boating at some point in 2014.

As much as we enjoy our time on the water, we also make mistakes which can leave people injured or killed. We feel so comfortable around water and underestimate its danger so much that the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that, for 2014, in fatal boating accidents where the cause of death was determined 78% of fatalities were the result of drowning and 84% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. I’m sure many of those who were killed thought they didn’t need a life jacket. “It’s only water, and I can swim.”

Some drownings occur due to the mistakes of the boat’s pilot:

  • A vessel overturns or sinks and those onboard aren’t wearing life jackets or there aren’t enough to go around.
  • A person without a life jacket falls overboard due to unsafe driving practices.
  • A vessel strikes another vessel or an object, throwing a person without a life jacket, who is possibly injured or incapacitated, overboard and into the water.

The Coast Guard provides these numbers for 2014:

  • There were 4,064 reported accidents causing 610 deaths and 2,678 injuries.
  • About $39 million dollars of property damage occurred in reported recreational boating accidents.
  • The top five leading causes of boating accidents were operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use.
  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. In cases where the primary accident cause was known, it was the leading factor in 21% of deaths.
  • The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (17%) and cabin motorboats (15%).
  • The vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (47%), canoes (13%) and kayaks (10%).

If you own or pilot a boat, one effective way to prevent injuries and deaths is to obtain training on safe boating and follow what you’ve been taught. The Coast Guard estimates that only 12% of boating accident fatalities happen on vessels where the operator has received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate. Other preventive tips include:

  • Make sure everyone onboard is wearing a life jacket.
  • Do not drink and boat.
  • Operate the boat safely by observing appropriate speeds, being attentive and following proper boating rules.

Swimming pool safety

For many of us, if we can’t go to the water we bring the water to us and install a swimming pool. It can provide endless hours of fun and relaxation — and moments of terror if someone is seriously injured or killed in or around a pool.

New Jersey Swiimming Pool Accident LawyerA swimming pool, if not in your backyard, may be next door or across the street.

  • There are an estimated 10.4 million residential and 309,000 public swimming pools in the U.S.
  • Swimming is the fourth most popular sport or activity in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The top activity is walking, with exercising with equipment coming in second.)
  • 36% of children 7 to 17 years old and 15% of adults go swimming at least six times a year in the U.S.

How dangerous are pools? According to Steven D. Levitt, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, as far as children are concerned, having a swimming pool on your property is potentially a hundred times more deadly than having a gun on your property.

  • He bases that on 1997 data showing 550 children drowned in residential swimming pools, about one death for every 11,000 pools.
  • In 1998, about 175 children were killed by firearms. With an estimated 200 million guns in the country, that was about one child death for every million guns.

While the numbers of pools and guns in the U.S. may have changed since 1997, the dangers of both are undeniable.

Swimming injuries and deaths are not uncommon, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Every day about ten people die from unintentional drowning, and two of them are children aged 14 or younger.
  • Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S.
  • For every child killed by drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • Drowning-related injuries can result in severe brain damage, causing long-term disabilities such as memory loss, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning.
  • Factors that increase the risk of drowning are: not knowing how to swim, lack of physical barriers around swimming pools, lack of supervision, alcohol use and seizures while in the water.

The CDC has several suggestions to make swimming safer:

  • Young swimmers should be supervised by adults.
  • Swimming should not be done alone.
  • Young children should get swimming lessons.
  • Adults shouldn’t drink and swim.
  • Pool owners should have a fence at least four feet tall around their pool.

Water is wonderful, powerful and potentially dangerous.

With summer on the horizon and temperatures rising, many of us are looking forward to fun on and in the water. As much as we value water for fun and relaxation, we need to respect it. We can’t take our safety and the safety of others for granted. We may love the water, but it’s indifferent to us. Our mistakes in or on it may result in injuries or death. . .  perhaps our own.

James DeZao is an attorney based in Parsippany, New Jersey, who represents those injured in accidents, including boating and swimming pool accidents.

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