Drowning 101

WE’VE ALL SEEN PEOPLE drowning, on TV or in the movies —

Alan Jonesyelling for help and waving their hands, trying to get someone’s attention. Problem is, that isn’t the way it happens; drowning is almost always a silent event with little flailing of one’s arms. That might explain why every year kids drown just feet away from parents.

When people are drowning, they usually display what’s called the Instinctive Drowning Response, and knowing what that looks like can save lives. The reason drowning victims are usually silent is that speech is secondary to breathing; that is,

they must fulfill their breathing requirement before they can make a sound. When they are intermittently bobbing above and below the surface of the water, they don’t have time to inhale, exhale, then yell. They are  also usually vertical in the water with their heads back and their hands to the side pushing down, which is an instinctual response to try to lever  the head above water. This response is so ingrained that even if you throw them a PFD, they can’t stop drowning long enough to grab it. To the casual observer, it looks like someone tread- ing water. So when someone falls overboard, often the only way to tell  if they are in distress is to ask them, “Are you OK?” If they don’t answer, assume they are possibly as little as 20 seconds away from going down for good.

That isn’t to say someone who is yelling or waving isn’t in trouble; he is likely experiencing Aquatic Distress, which can progress to drowning. The

difference is that he might be able to assist his rescue by grabbing on to a thrown life jacket.

Speaking of life jackets, one of the favorites in the BoatUS.org Innovations in Life Jacket Design competition that could win the

$10,000 top prize is the Aegis Lifeshirt ($125, lifeshirt.com), which looks like a stylish T-shirt that doesn’t hinder a user’s range of motion. It can be set to inflate should the wearer’s body become totally immersed in water (a shower won’t set it off) or be set to manual activation mode if the wearer is snorkeling or surfing. It’s even being certified for kids’ use.

Does your boat’s first aid kit contain cayenne pepper? If not it should. This weekend a friend sliced the tip of her thumb off on a kitchen mandolin (think guillotine). After 15 minutes of ice and heavy pressure, we couldn’t get the profuse bleeding to stop. She didn’t want to go to the doctor, so during a quick Google search, I kept seeing cayenne pepper as a treatment for bad cuts. I liberally dumped it

on — she said it produced a very mild warming sensation — and to our amazement it stopped the bleeding. It also has antibacterial and pain-reliev- ing properties. Who knew? BW

Alan

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