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Natural bodies of water provide more challenges

A river or lake is not a pool, and safety should always be the top concern

With the recent heat wave sending New Mexicans scrambling for ways to keep cool, the New Mexico State Parks Division is reminding the public that swimming in natural bodies of water like lakes, rivers and streams is different from swimming in a pool. More skills and energy are required for natural water environments because of low water and air temperatures, currents, waves and other conditions — and these conditions can change as quickly as the weather.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children age 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Tragedy struck in New Mexico as recently as last weekend, when a 4-year-old boy drowned at Navajo Lake. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency room care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

To stay safe in and around natural water settings, the parks division recommends:

♦ Supervision when in or around water. Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision” — staying close enough to reach the child at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity while supervising children.

♦ Use U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. This is important regardless of the distance to be traveled, the size of the boat or the swimming ability of boaters; life jackets can reduce risk for swimmers too.

♦ Remember, air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices. Don’t use “water wings,” “noodles” or inner tubes or similar devices instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

♦ Use the buddy system. Always swim with a buddy, and select swimming sites that have lifeguards, when possible.

♦ Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water is still important.

♦ Avoid alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating or water/jet skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.

♦ Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.

♦ Practice seizure disorder safety. If you or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming, and wear life jackets when boating.

♦ Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone’s life.

State law requires that you wear a life jacket when on a canoe, kayak or raft and that all children 12 years old and younger wear a life jacket while on the deck of a moving vessel. The State Parks Division offers free boating safety classes around the state and online throughout the year.