In 2012, 54 people drowned in the state of Minnesota, according to statistics published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boat and water safety section. One of those drownings took place in Winona County, Sheriff David Brand said.
The Mississippi River seems to be the most dangerous place in the area for people that are swimming, boating, or fishing, Brand said. If you’re going out on the river you need a safe boat, extra life jackets, a good motor that runs well, and an anchor on the boat, he said. If a boat is moving, sit down on the inside, and always consider everyone else on the water, Brand said. When going out on the water it is important to always let someone know what you are doing and where you will be, he said.
“A life jacket should always be worn, even if you’re a strong swimmer; I make my guys wear them at all times,” Brand said.
Brand believes drowning can be prevented. It is important to be observant; watch for people not feeling well, someone cramping up in the water, or gasping for air. Also be aware of your surroundings, not just people in the water, he said. People that aren’t feeling well can flop off the boat and fall into the water, Brand said.
According to Julie Fassbender, program and recreation director with the Winona Park and Recreation Department, there are steps to the drowning process, which can be recognized once a swimmer has been compromised.
The initial step would be the distressed swimmer. A distressed swimmer will realize he or she is in a dangerous situation and will try to ask for help. This step is followed by what is called active or instinctive drowning, Fassbender said.
Active or instinctive drowning is a natural reaction your body has to drowning. “The person drowning will often push their palms down, keep their head up, and stay in a vertical position without using their legs,” Fassbender said.
Passive drowning is what follows; the swimmer has already been submerged in water and has potentially begun breathing water into the lungs, Fassbender said. If someone is injured before or while falling into the water he or she may go straight into passive drowning, she said.
“Once someone has started drowning there are only about 20 to 40 seconds,” to reach that person before he or she become a passive drowning victim, Fassbender said.
Brand and Fassbender recommend that all people on the water take into account their own safety first.
“If you feel safe enough to pull someone out, you can throw the person a life jacket or a rope, but only if you’re comfortable,” Brand said.
“Don’t put yourself in danger. ‘Reach or throw, don’t go,’ is what I teach in my classes,” Fassbender said. Don’t jeopardize two people instead of one; throw out a rescue tube, or reach them with a stick without going in to the water, she said. If the person drowning has already gone under, Fassbender suggests making a note of the location where the person went under at and most importantly, always call 911 as soon as there is even a hint of trouble in the water.
“Take all the safety precautions you can. There are lots of great swimming programs you can take advantage of in Winona, at the YMCA, Winona State University, and with us at Park and Recreation,” Fassbender said.
Both Fassbender and Brand believe water safety is the best way to prevent drownings. “Always think safe,” Brand said.