News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Experts caution water users during high heat

This summer’s record heat also produces challenges for those trying to beat the heat by splashing around in the water.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are cautioning water users to be cautious in Oregon lakes and rivers because of the coolness of the water as well as urging individuals to wear life jackets.

While air temperatures may be high, water temperatures can be much lower and can be deadly, according to statistics cited by the USACE.

Falling into water unexpectedly can cause involuntary gasping, even with water as warm as 77 degrees. And a sudden fall can also be disorienting, which can make it more difficult to recover from the incident. Wearing a life jacket can help limit fatalities. USACE data shows that 89 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.

“A lot of people who drown don’t anticipate being in the water,” said Tom Conning, a public affairs specialist with the Corps.  “Another problem is people overestimate their swimming ability in open water – men are especially arrogant about their swimming abilities and strength.”

Men still make up the overwhelming majority of drowning victims, at 88 percent, according to USACE statistics.

“I understand you can still drown, even if you are wearing a life jacket,” said Conning. “My dad was an extremely experienced whitewater kayaker, who took safety seriously, wore his life jacket and still drowned. He got caught in a snag that the group he was with couldn’t see. No family should deal with that trauma if it’s avoidable, which it can be, if people wear their life jackets.”

Key tips for those swimming, fishing, rafting or boating include, according to the USACE include:

• Wear a life jacket. It will help you survive an unexpected fall into the water and can save your life if you become exhausted.

• Know your swimming abilities. Swimming in natural waters is different from swimming in a pool, and your swimming ability decreases with age.

• Expect the unexpected.  If you fall or jump into water that is colder than 77 degrees, you can inhale water from involuntary gasping.

• Understand “boater’s hypnosis.”  This can slow your reaction time almost as much as intoxication.

• Eliminate alcohol consumption. Alcohol induces an inner ear condition that can cause disorientation when underwater.

USACE officials also stress the importance of water safety year-round, but especially during the summer season because that is when most public recreation fatalities occur.

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