Keep summer fun and safe

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

School’s out for the summer. Memorial Day is behind us, and summer is in front of us. Many families will be heading to the lake for boating and swimming. Others will take to the mountains and other recreational areas for hiking and camping. Summer also means that more and more people will be taking to the river to experience the thrill of rafting, kayaking and canoeing.

However, safety needs to be a part of your plan. Even for children or adults who have good swimming skills, rivers and lakes contain elements that can make swimming dangerous. Swimmers and floaters need to be aware of currents, drop-offs, and floating debris at all times. As a swimmer, know your limits. All swimmers are encouraged to use a life jacket, especially young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Everyone needs a swimming buddy — don’t allow anyone to swim alone. Supervise children in or near water.
This time of year finds many rafting, kayaking or canoeing the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers. A rafting trip down the river can be a lot of fun, especially when everyone prepares with safety in mind. Again, life jackets are an absolute “must” when on the river. Even gentle stretches of water may have unseen undercurrents. Trying to fight swift currents will exhaust swimmers of every ability.
Here are several more tips specific to rafting and kayaking on the river:
• Use sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses to protect you from the sun. Wear water shoes. If your canoe/kayak/inner tube capsizes, they will protect your feet. Walking in rivers can be dangerous.
• Be familiar with the river and its individual characteristics. Make a rescue plan just in case circumstances make a rescue necessary. Pair an experienced paddler/floater with someone of less experience.
• Learn to recognize river hazards such boulders, barb wire across the river, eddies, and times of generation by TVA dams, etc.
• Know your limits and do not attempt to navigate a section of river beyond your skill level.
• If you capsize, hold onto your craft and move immediately to the upstream side to avoid being trapped between the boat and an obstacle. Float on your back, feet together and pointed downstream. Gradually work your way to the shore. Release your craft only if it improves your safety.
• Do not paddle or attempt to cross rivers in flood stage or after a heavy rain. Currents can become very swift, even in a normally shallow river. Stay sober.
• Alcohol and drugs affect balance, judgment, coordination, swimming skills, and the body’s ability to stay warm.
• Avoid being “too” — too tired, too impaired, too much sun, too far from safety, too much strenuous activity. Learn basic water rescue techniques. When attempting a rescue, remember the adage of “Reach – Throw – Row – Go for Help.” Unprepared rescuers run the risk of being caught in the same dangerous situation and can become a victim themselves. If you have to go after someone in the water, always put on a life jacket first.
Summer is a time for fun, so let’s have fun. But, we’ve got to be safe, too!

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