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17 dead and counting

Date Posted: 2004-07-01

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan — Going to the beach or hanging out at the pool can be fun and relaxing for many. However, if swimmers want to continue having a good time in and around the water they need to be aware of water safety.

According to the most recent statistics, the U.S. military on Okinawa exceeds the 50 states in drowning deaths per capita, said Shawn Curtis the occupational safety and health specialist at Marine Corps Base Camp Butler’s Safety office. “We have lost 17 members of our community since January 2000.”

Some common mistakes people make when they get in the water is they often exceed their swimming abilities, swim where lifeguards are not present or swim during hazardous conditions, Curtis explained.

Curtis suggests swimmers enter the water in areas where lifeguards are present to remedy these problems. Lifeguards have the proper training to respond to emergencies in a matter of seconds, according to Charles Roberts, a safety specialist with the MCB safety office.

It is also important to get up-to-date weather and sea condition forecasts, know contact numbers to reach emergency services and have a means to call them, Roberts explained.

“Sea conditions change rapidly, and conditions on one side of the island might not always be the same as they are on the other side of the island,” Roberts said.

Swimming with a buddy is another important part of water safety because if a swimmer is alone and gets in trouble, then there will be no one there to help him. This has been a contributing factor to drowning deaths in the past, according to Roberts.

It is also important to pay attention to certain warning signs when preparing to get in the water around beaches, such as murky water, currents, large rocks and large surf. Some beaches on Okinawa post signs in both Japanese and English warning patrons of the local water hazards, Curtis explained.

“If it takes you more than a second to decide whether to get into the water, then you shouldn’t get in the water,” said Travis Marsden, aquatic program manager at Marine Corps Community Services.

People should take the time to read the rules that are posted at swimming facilities before they get into the water, Marsden said.

Swimmers should also use sunscreen to avoid injury from the sun. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before entering the water and reapplied throughout the day. Just because swimmers are in the water doesn’t mean they will be protected from the sun, according to Marsden.

“It is also important to drink plenty of water to avoid cramping and to stretch your muscles if you are going to swim. A lot of people just jump in the water without stretching,” Marsden said.

People can educate themselves about water safety or take a basic water safety course by contacting their installation’s American Red Cross office for details. Individuals can also watch a water safety video by visiting www.mcbbutler.usmc.mil. Click on sites, scroll down to safety, click on safety and scroll down to the water safety video.

“Water safety is for your own well-being,” Marsden said. “It only takes a couple of inches of water for someone to drown, and in a mass body of water the probability is increased.”

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