The ability to swim is one most people take for granted, yet there are many people, young and old, who do not have sufficient swimming skills to survive a water-based emergency. While they may have spent some time in a pool, their overall ability to swim is weak. This can lead to tragedy in the event they are ever forced into a situation where swimming is the only way out of danger.
At some time in your life, you will find yourself around water. Whether it’s the ocean, a pool, lakes or a stream, if the water is deeper than your height and you end up in it, strong swimming skills can save your life. This is especially true for people that frequent the water while fishing, hiking or just beach time. What starts out as a leisurely afternoon can turn into a life-or-death scenario. Recently, former Miami Dolphins running back Rob Konrad fell off of his fishing boat near Palm Beach, Florida. After swimming for 16 hours, he covered the nine miles to shore, where he made contact with emergency personnel. It takes little imagination to understand what the result would have been if. Konrad had not been a strong swimmer.
It is important to understand that water threats are not always as obvious as falling overboard. Countless people around the world have drowned during instances of natural flooding that occur every year. A change of seasons brings us to frozen lakes and streams. If you ever consider activities on the ice, it is essential to make certain your swimming skills are up to the task. Falling into icy water will challenge you physically, and weak swimming skills may cost you your life when put to the test.
If you are out on the water, it is important to wear a personal flotation device. Ac- cording to the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association, “Nine out of 10 drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety and involve boats less than 20 feet long. Most drowning victims had access to a personal flotation device, but did not wear it.”
There are five categories of personal flotation devices, with the most common being a Type III or flotation aid. “These life jackets are generally considered the most comfortable, with styles for different boating activities and sports. They are for use in calm water where there is good chance of a fast rescue since they will generally not turn an unconscious person face up.”
If you plan on being in larger bodies of water, however, you should consider a Type I vest that has the ability to turn an unconscious victim face up.
In this same open-water scenario, it is suggested that flotation devices be fitted with a waterproof strobe light, such as the water-activated Firefly3 from ACR Electronics. This is a durable, lightweight strobe that can be a crucial tool in rescu- ing people lost in large bodies of water, especially at night.
ACR also produces another great tool to help in locating people lost in water— the AquaLink View PLB is a compact personal locator beacon. According to ACR, “The AquaLink View broadcasts a unique registered distress signal that not only tells rescuers where you are, but who you are.” The device has an onboard GPS that can transmit your position to within 100 meters and relay your distress call to orbiting satellites. This is considered a must-have for those who spend time in large bodies of water. Another option is the Briartek Cereberus, a device that allows you to send a distress message as well as a digital “bread crumb” trail to help rescuers find you. These items are by no means a replacement for swimming skills. They are designed to supplement your abilities and shorten the time it takes for you to be rescued.
It is time to really be honest with yourself and measure your swimming skills. When you swim in your backyard pool, just how far do you really swim? Few of us have the luxury of an Olympic-sized pool in our backyard, if any pool at all. With that being said, most people swim no more than a couple yards at a time. If this is the extent of your ability, it may be time to step up and take your swimming more seriously. The benefits of swimming go beyond protecting your own life in a dangerous situation. The health benefits of swimming are numerous. It is an exercise that can be performed into your older years. It is also a non-impact exercise that allows you to work many muscles at the same time and improve the health of your lungs and heart. Swimming is one of the few survival preparations you can do that has such great side benefits.
Beyond protecting and bettering ourselves, strong swimming skills prepare us in the event we are called on to help. The ability to rescue others is a major benefit. According to the CDC, more than 3,400 people drown in the United States each year. Strong swimming skills can make a difference if someone is in need of help. This is especially true if you have children. Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14. Your swimming skills can quickly turn from a self-preservation tool to a means of rescues.
If you decide that it is time to improve your swimming ability, you have several options. The number-one suggestion is to seek professional training. This can be as simple as visiting your local parks and recreation department’s website. Most municipalities offer a variety of swimming lessons every year. If you are more serious, you can seek out private instruction. It takes courage to take swimming lessons, as most people see that as a “kid’s class.” It is far from that, and organiza- tions like U.S. Masters Swimming are quick to offer advice and training.
One thing that many parents do is to take classes with their children. Many places offer adult classes in conjunction with children’s classes. Along with improving your swimming ability, you build a bond with your child. If you choose to go it alone, then safety is word one. Always swim with a partner and stay within your skill zone. Educate yourself on proper technique and principles. There is no shortage of tutorials online. They cover everything from basic strokes to advanced breathing and turning techniques.
Be it through professional training or simply brushing up on the fundamentals, your goal should be clear. We should be able to successfully swim a reasonably long distance in possibly adverse conditions. You do not need to be the fastest in the water or technically perfect. What you do need is the ability to save yourself in an emergency.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.