Tap into Health: The importance of life vests | SteamboatToday.com

Tap into Health: The importance of life vests

Mark VonSchondorf
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Each spring and early summer, when the Yampa River flows swiftly through the heart of our community, I can’t help but wonder how many close calls our children have had with this body of water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings annually in the U.S. Most of these deaths are accidents that could have been prevented with proper supervision, life jackets or barriers to household dangers. In our community, there are so many ways to access water that everyone must be aware of the danger and understand how to prevent tragic accidents.

When allowing children to play in and near the Yampa, always ensure there is an adult dedicated to watching the water. Another great idea is an appropriate life jacket.

Life jackets come in all shapes and sizes, but not all are appropriate for every situation. Avoid flotation devices that are labeled “This is not a life saving device.” These types of life jackets and flotation devices are designed primarily as toys and not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

As a lifeguard instructor, one of our lessons we cover is victim recognition. Inappropriate flotation devices are a key point we discuss. Every lifeguard cringes when they see inflatable water wings or a pool noodle used to replace a parent’s supervision. Water wings can trap young children under water when used incorrectly, and pool noodles slip away in the blink of an eye — right after enabling children to reach deeper water. These devices may be great pool toys but should never be used as a replacement for supervision or used while boating.

Appropriate life jackets will vary depending on the environment it is used in but any quality life jacket will be Coast Guard approved and labeled as such. When selecting a Coast-Guard-approved life jacket, research the different types available and choose one that fits your application.

Don’t know how to teach your child about water safety? Try a swim lesson. All American Red Cross swim lessons include water safety lessons, including life jacket use. The Red Cross even offers a free online water safety for parents and caregivers course.

Keep the children of our community safe around the water — encourage life jacket use, dedicate a water watcher and try a swim lesson.

Mark VonSchondorf is the aquatics director at Old Town Hot Springs and oversees swim lessons, Steamboat Springs Swim Team, lifeguarding and American Red Cross safety trainings. He has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical Education from Edinboro (Pennsylvania) University and a Master of Public Administration from Gannon (Pennsylvania) University.

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