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Lifejackets are one of the most important pieces of water safety. Their use could prevent all drowning-related problems, St. Croix Dive Team member Jay Penfield said. 

HUDSON — Early heat waves this summer have sent people to the lakes and rivers to cool off, and seen an uptick in water-related deaths. 

Jay Penfield has worked on the St. Croix Dive Team for more than 20 years, and would prefer to never go on another drowning call. 

“It’s just the worst day when someone has a problem on the water because it was such a good day that just went so terribly wrong,” Penfield said. 

Penfield shared precautions and information people should keep in mind when enjoying a day on the water to keep everyone safe. 

“Unfortunately all the things I’m saying make the trip to the lake less fun, but unfortunately the alternative to that is someone doesn’t come home,” he said. 

1. Keep an eye on swimmers

Somebody in the group needs to be paying attention to the people in the water, Penfield said. That includes not just kids, though they are often the primary focus, but adults as well. 

It’s a hard thing to do when people want to relax, Penfield said, but it’s necessary to head off any potential problems. 

2. Wear lifejackets

Penfield would like to see everybody wearing a life jacket when they’re out on the water, though he said that’s likely not realistic. Lifejackets should especially be worn by anyone who is not comfortable in the water or is not a strong swimmer. 

Lifejackets could prevent all drowning problems, Penfield said. 

3. Know what drowning looks and sounds like 

Most of the time people don’t actually notice when someone is in distress in the water, Penfield said. Statistically, drowning is quiet, without the shouting or splashing that is often associated with it. 

Swimmers will often lose their footing, slip under the water or get in too deep quickly and quietly. 

“By the time you figure out somebody is gone, it’s too late,” Penfield said. 

That’s why it’s important for someone to be keeping an eye on those in the water. With drowning, every second counts, Penfield said. 

Rescuers learn the phrase “reach, throw, row, go” when it comes to drowning, Penfield said. To help someone in distress, it’s important to reach something out to them, throw something to them, take a boat out and go out and get hands on them. 

4. Pay attention to water conditions 

Some bodies of water can be safer than others, Penfield said.  

Often people are surprised by drop offs in lakes and other bodies of water. Rivers can often be more difficult for swimmers due to currents and changing water conditions. 

Swimmers should stay in designated swimming areas and avoid swimming after heavy rain, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources advises. 

5. Limit drinking

Keeping alcohol consumption in check on the water is another way to stay safe. It’s important to be able to make good decisions and pay proper attention while on the water, Penfield said.


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