After four recent drowning deaths, all in which had close ties to the vicinity of Cass County, water safety experts are advocating for more precaution while trying to stay cool this summer in water.
Cold water and currents can overpower the skills of even a good swimmer or athlete, and that is why precautions should be taken when swimming or boating in areas of open water.
Sgt. William Lowe of the Missouri State Highway Patrol says wearing a life jacket is the best prevention against a drowning accident.
Because the water temperature of open water areas are still not very warm, there may be an initial shock to your body after falling into the water from a personal watercraft or boat.
“You may not be ready to swim right at that point in time,” Lowe said. “You may be in a position where you’re upside down and not sure which way is up.”
In those instances, Lowe says wearing a personal flotation device is going to be essential for survival.
Lowe said drownings are not a widespread problem, but are more prevalent early in the summer because there likely hasn’t been a lot of time for people to get used to being in the water again after another year.
“It can be a problem early on because people think they may be a great swimmer but they’re really not, and they maybe haven’t had the opportunity to hone, practice their skills,” Lowe said. “Once they get on the water, in a lake or a river, and if they haven’t done any swimming throughout the winter months or through the early spring, it can really be a problem.”
Lowe did say that in the last month or two, drowning deaths have been slightly more frequent than usual in the Kansas City area.
“I think there have be a lot of factors involved,” Lowe said. “But if you’re going to get in the water, whether you’re on a boat or a personal watercraft, you need to make sure you have that life jacket on. I think people need to get over some of the stereotypes of putting on that life jacket and realize it is extremely important to keep it on.”
Throughout the summer months, the MSHP patrols water areas throughout the state.
“We have marine operations troopers who are looking for violations that are possibly life-threatening and need to be addressed now, and not later,” he said. “I think any marine operation trooper will tell you they would much rather issue someone a ticket than to work their fatality in a boating or drowning incident.”
Marine Operations Trooper Kim Davis, a 14-year veteran to her post, said it is important to use caution while swimming in open water areas because the surface in these areas are not flat and smooth like swimming pools – but actually have holes or debris that can not be seen above the water.
“I’ve worked drownings in the past where people don’t know how to swim but they think they’re safe because they can touch,” Davis said. “They might take one step into an area where they can’t touch and they begin to panic.”
If you do begin to panic, Davis says you need to do your best to remain calm.
In addition to swimming, Davis warns about the dangers of diving in open water areas. She said the consequences can be fatal if the depth of the water is misjudged.
“There are a lot of injuries that can accompany that kind of behavior,” she said.
The MSHP is also an advocate against drinking while on the water.
“I think anytime you mix alcohol and driving anything, you’re putting yourself and others at risk of being seriously injured or killed,” Lowe said. “When you’re on the water, your buoyancy is even heightened, so you’re not able to do the things you’re normally able to do.”