With a record number of drownings on Logan Martin Lake already this year, the summer is far from over.
“It’s very sad for our lake and our community,” said Pell City Police Chief Greg Turley, who frequently patrols the lake in the city’s Marine One boat.
Two of the drowning fatalities involved boats, and one of the five victims was a child.
“This was very unusual, even before Memorial Day Weekend, before the season,” said Alabama Marine Police Kim Collins, who has patrolled Logan Martin Lake for the past 18 years.
The Memorial Day Weekend generally signals the start of the summer season on Logan Martin Lake, as boat traffic increases and people flock to the lake.
Collins said not only were there five drowning fatalities on Logan Martin Lake, but there were two drowning deaths on Neely Henry Lake, the reservoir just north of Logan Martin Lake.
“It’s not just Logan Martin Lake,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an annual average of 3,533 unintentional drownings that were non-boat related from 2005 to 2009. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boat-related accidents.
The CDC said in its report that about one out of every five people who die from drowning are children 14 years old and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries.
The CDC reported that nearly 80 percent of the people who die from drowning are male, and children ages 1-4, have the highest drowning rates.
Both Collins and Turley offered suggestions to help prevent becoming a victim of drowning for those who boat and/or swim on area lakes.
“Don’t go alone, especially if you intend to swim,” Collins said.
She said children in and around water should always wear a PFD, or personal floatation device.
Collins said lakes add new dangers to swimmers, and especially non-swimmers or beginner swimmers.
“You can’t see below the water surface,” she said, adding that people are not visible underneath the water like in a pool. “It’s black water – just don’t jump in it without knowing what’s underneath the surface.”
Collins said it is also important that swimmers know their limitations.
“The shore may end up further away than you initially thought,” she said. “If you don’t learn anything else, learn how to float on your back.”
She said the YMCA and Red Cross are great resources for people to learn how to swim and to learn CPR.
“The quicker the response, the better for the drowning victim,” Collins said.
Turley compared PFDs to seatbelts in the cars – they save lives.
“You have to have it on,” he said, adding that the PFD must be the right size and fit properly.
According to the CDC, in 2010 the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,604 boating incidents; 3,153 boaters were injured and 672 died. Seventy-two percent of the boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88 percent of the victims not wearing life jackets.
“Part of the problem is that people think it’s not going to happen to them,” Turley said. “Drowning is an unexpected killer.”
He said if people are swimming in the lake, there needs to be a designated water watcher who is competent and mature enough to watch out for younger swimmers.
“The bigger the crowd, the greater the danger,” Turley said.
A buddy system, where two swimmers keep up with one another, can also help prevent someone from becoming a drowning victim.
Turley said drowning victims don’t normally wave their hands up into the air and scream for help like you might see on television shows.
“It (drowning) can be a very silent killer.”
Turley said the utmost caution must be used when trying to save someone from drowning.
He said a victim’s instinct will be to save themselves, and victims can drown the rescuer who is trying to save them if both swimmers are in deep water.
He said it is best to reach out to the victim with a pole or float.
Both Collins and Turley warned that people should not drink in excess on or around the lake.
Collins said alcohol was involved in three of the five drowning deaths on Logan Martin Lake this year.
“There are so many ways to have fun on the lake, and none of them requires alcohol,” Turley said. “You might have to become a rescuer, too.”