Generally speaking, water sports are any activities that can be done in the water. This ranges from recreational water activities such as swimming, fishing and boating, to competitive water activities such as sailing, surfing and diving. Just like any other sport, water sports has its own sets of dangers to look out for. Here, we will be discussing the different dangers of water sports, and everything you need to need to know like how to avoid them and what to do when you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
Watersports: Drowning and Impact
Just like bodies of water, the dangers of water sports come at different depths, levels, and intensities depending on the terrain and nature of the sport. Regardless of whether you are in a pool, lake, or in the ocean, drowning and injuries due to high impact are common to all three. Both of these incidents can cause mild to severe brain injuries if you are not careful.
Have you ever belly-flopped into a pool at full force? Have you heard stories of how painful it is? This is what is meant when we talk about impact as a danger of water sports. What is the science behind why belly flops are so painful? We need to first understand water and its composition. When we are in it the water seems smooth. But before we get into the depth of water, we have to penetrate the barrier on top, this is due to surface tension.
From short distances the impact of your body hitting the water in a flat position is low. It may cause your skin to sting and maybe a few bruises. But from a long distance, at a high impact, in any position, and in different bodies of water, chances of injury are much higher and more severe. When your body breaks the surface of water, a large amount of kinetic energy is released. Possible injuries include internal bleeding, and damage to your internal organs. Landing in different positions can even dislocate your arms and legs. Falling head first can cause brain damage. The list goes on.
Just like all injuries, drowning comes at different levels. When we picture someone drowning, we picture a physical struggle between a person and the water. But that is not always the case and people can still drown even outside of the water.
Wet drowning occurs when a person’s lungs fill up with water. This can be active or silent but it refers to the condition of the lungs and its water content. Wet drowning is the most common type of drowning. Even small amounts of water in the lungs can damage the lining and prevent a person from receiving sufficient levels of oxygen.
Dry drowning is less common than wet drowning but is just as dangerous. Dry drowning means that a person has drowned in water but there are no traces of water or other liquids found in their lungs. This is due to a natural reflex that sometimes occurs in the body. What happens is before a person actually drowns, their throat closes up before any water can be inhaled. In essence, the person runs out of air.
Secondary drowning is in a way, a combination of the two and happens when a person is completely out of the water. Just like in wet drowning, a person is exposed to fluid build up in their lungs. And just like dry drowning, the person’s body has a natural reaction. This occurs when a person has drowned in water, but was saved- sometimes through means of CPR. The person is doing fine, but then after a few hours they experience the drowning sensation. This is because when the person experienced wet drowning first, their lungs and bloodstream were damaged, preventing the body from getting sufficient oxygen even after being retrieved from the water.
Bodies of Water: Fresh Water and Saltwater
Aside from swimming pools, water sports can also take place in lakes and in the ocean. Since pools are contained environments and are easier to maintain and supervise, that goes without saying that fresh water and salt water environments are more dangerous and require extra precaution.
Freshwater refers to any body of water other than the sea. This includes lakes, rivers, streams, and gulfs. Common freshwater activities include swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, jet skiing, and paddle boarding. Freshwater bodies are not as deep as the ocean, but they still have their own set of dangers to look out for.
Water Borne Disease
Unlike in chlorinated swimming pools and salt water, freshwater is stagnant and susceptible to water borne diseases, parasites, and various different types of amoebas. When the water is warm and stagnant, chances of infection and contraction are at an all-time high. The best way to prevent infections and other water borne diseases would be to only swim in designated swimming spots. Spots that are warm and stagnant are breeding grounds for bacteria.
Currents and Whirlpools
While lakes are contained bodies of water, they still have currents that can sweep you under- especially if there’s a river nearby. In recent years there have been reports of deaths and injuries in lake swimmers due to being pulled in by a current or whirlpool.
There are 5 different types of currents that you may experience when swimming in a lake or even in the ocean. For reference, a current is considered dangerous when it exceeds 2mph. Currents build up in lakes for a number of reasons. One of the most common is a combination of wind, temperature, and bottom formation. Among the five different types of currents we have: rip, structural, longshore, outlet, and channel currents.
Rip currents are less common in lakes and more common in gulfs and in the ocean. These currents form when a wave breaks near the shoreline. In lakes, rip currents rarely exceed 5 mph and are easy to escape from. Rip currents usually run in a perpendicular motion pulling away from the shore. If you ever find yourself trapped in a rip current the best way to save yourself would be to swim perpendicular to the shore until you are out of the direct current and are able to swim to shore or call for help.
Longshore currents run parallel to the shore. Alone, they are easy to escape as you could swim with the current until it dies down, or in some cases you could swim towards shore. These currents are dangerous when they are in combination with rip or structural currents.
Just like the name suggests, outlet currents occur near outlets, where rivers flow into larger bodies of water. Since water from rivers is continuously running the current will be continuous and can easily sweep you away if paired with other currents such as those mentioned above.
Channel currents are more complex because they act as rivers flowing between islands. They are continuous and there is a lot more activity going on underwater which can catch you off guard. Elements under the water such as sandbars can act as pockets for pressure to build up. The best way to escape a channel current is by swimming to shore.
Just like currents, whirlpools can also form in both the ocean and in lakes. Generally, whirlpools form in the ocean when waves and strong tides collide with one another, causing the water to bounce off each other and form a whirlpool. In lakes, whirlpools form when different currents collide, and when the wind is strong causing a difference in air pressure and temperature in the water.
Currents and whirlpools are dangers that are common to both lakes and the ocean. However, swimming in the ocean has its own set of dangers in addition to those listed above. Whether you are swimming along the shore, or going for a deep dive, you will want to be cautious of the following.
Salt water has high levels of sea salt. Not only does salty water taste bad, but it is extremely bad for you. Swallowing even small amounts of seawater can leave you dehydrated and it will take a long time before all the salt will be able to pass through your system. If you are drowning even along the shore, it is without a doubt that you;d be getting salt water in your system. Paired with the dangers of secondary and dry drowning, you are at a high risk.
Swimming along the shore is not the only water activity where you are at risk. Activities such as scuba diving can take a toll on your body even with the presence of supportive equipment. As you go deeper underwater in the open ocean, the pressure builds up, this can lead to either decompression sickness or blocked arteries. Decompression sickness occurs when you inhale decompressed air- this usually has concentrated levels of nitrogen and can result in pain and tissue damage. Blocked arteries are also a direct result of too much pressure on the body causing damage to the lungs which results in blocked and damaged arteries.
Dangers of Watersports: How to Stay Safe
Now that we have discussed all the potential dangers of watersports across the different terrains, we can discuss the best ways to stay safe on the water. The first and most important step you need to take is learning to swim. Swimming is a basic survival skill that everyone should learn, even if they are not actively participating in watersports. There are many different types of swimming classes available, each for different ages. They even have infant rescue swimming classes that teach young children how to save themselves in an emergency situation. Aside from swimming, you can also opt for external protection.
Life Vests- Why You Should Wear One
Even if you know how to swim, you should still always wear a life vest- especially if you are in open waters and far from the shallows. Aside from typical inflatable pool floats, there are a number of different life vests or Personal Flotation Devices on the market to best aid you in the water activity you are participating in.
Life vests that are classified as Type I are your standard life vests. They are often referred to as offshore life vests because they are good for all water terrains. This can include pools, lakes, rivers, and even the open ocean. These vests are designed so that the wearer will always remain upright. These are most often used in activities such as boating and jet skiing in order to act as a safety net in case the wearer falls into the water.
Similar to Type I, Type II vests will also keep unconscious wearers in an upright position. The difference is that these vests are not as bulky and are designed for calm waters such as pools and still lakes. These often come in two variations: foam type and the inflatable type which is ideal for sailing and similar activities.
Unlike Type I and Type II vests, a Type III life vest will not keep unconscious wearers in an upright position. This requires that the wearer has their head above water and is conscious so that they can swim to rescue with assistance. These are often worn in calm waters or during activities where there is a sure chance of rescue at all times.
These flotation devices are also known as your throwable devices. These are also coast guard approved but are not intended for swimmers. Boats often have these on board in the event that someone needs to be rescued. These devices are not ideal for rough waters and unconscious swimmers.
While the other types are best used for rescues and flotation, Type VI vests are your special use devices. These are crafted for specific activities. These activities can include water skiing, windsurfing, and even scuba diving. Most of these devices are hybrids of the others and can even have special features such as the ability to inflate once the device hits the water.
Life Vests vs Inflatable Life Vests
A common mistake that people make is mistaking and interchanging live vests or life jackets for inflatable life vests. The simple difference is that inflatable life vests, inflate and regular life vests do not. Life vests and life jackets retain their buoyancy through foam pads or similar materials that cannot be deflated. Inflatable life vests can be either auto inflating or self inflating.
Additional Safety Measures: SPF
While we have discussed the different dangers and precautions to take for when you are in and around water, it is important to also protect yourself when you are out of it. Many focus on the possibility of drowning but another hazard to your health that can be just as dangerous are sunburns.
Even if you are not actively swimming or sunbathing, SPF is still an important part of your daily routine when taking to any activities out under the sun. Studies show that only 1 in 10 Americans are wearing SPF regularly and nearly 5 million are tested annually for skin cancer. The best way to protect your skin is by selecting sunscreen with SPF levels appropriate for both your skin tone, and intended activities for that day.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. If you check the labels on your sunscreen and skin products you can see that SPF levels in products range from SPF 15 to SPF 100. Generally, the higher the SPF, the more protection but this can vary depending on your activities. Sunscreen between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is most recommended.
Reef Safe Sunscreens
You’re not the only one at risk when it comes to water sports. While not all water activities come in direct contact with wildlife, all of our actions can cause a direct impact, including the ingredients in our sunscreen. So while we are protecting our skin from the sun, we may be doing it at the expense of marine life.
If you look in the ingredients of your sunscreen, you will want to keep an eye out for ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals contribute largely to the bleaching of our coral reefs. Other chemicals such as petrolatum and titanium dioxide can take many years to degrade and end up harming wildlife. The best way to protect yourself without harming marine life is to really look into the ingredients of your sunscreen, make sure that it contains adequate SPF and is reef safe.
There are many different types and classifications of watersports. Accordingly, there are also many different dangers that you need to be aware of. Whether you are in a pool, lake, water park, or in the open ocean, you want to be mindful of your surroundings and prepared at all times. Whether this be by knowing and wearing the proper PFD, minding your diving impact, or wearing the right amount of SPF, you can never be too safe.