With hot summer weather comes an increase in activity in area waters. Paramedics with American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service offer the following tips to help boaters, swimmers and divers prevent water sport accidents.

Preventing boating accidents

The U.S. Coast Guard reported more than 4,789 recreational boating accidents that resulted in 709 deaths and 3,331 injuries in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.

A few simple but vital steps can reduce the risk of a boating tragedy:

- Take a boating safety course, know your boat and follow the "rules of the road."

- Make sure your boat has all required safety equipment and check it to ensure it is in working order.

- Don't overload a boat. Consider the size of the boat, the number of passengers and the amount of extra equipment that will be on-board.

- Never let children take the wheel and pilot the boat - not even personal water craft like jet skis.

- In power boats check the electrical system and fuel system for gas fumes.

- Follow manufacturers' suggested procedures before starting the engine.

- Wear a life jacket. Don't just carry it in the boat.

- Do not consume alcohol while operating a boat or participating in boating activities.

- Check the weather forecast.

- File a float plan with a member of your family or with a friend.

Drowning is also a danger

Each year, approximately 1.2 million people drown worldwide. Fifty percent of these drowning victims are children. In addition, one quarter of drowning victims are people who knew how to swim. While drowning accidents can happen any time of the year, these increase during warmer weather when more people enjoy water recreation. Most drownings occur in open water, lakes, rivers, ponds and the open sea where lifeguards are not present.

AMR offers these safety tips to help prevent drowning:

- Never swim alone.

- Never rely on toys such as water wings, or even inner tubes, to stay afloat.

- Don't take chances by over-estimating your swimming skills.

- Swim only in designated swimming areas.

- Closely watch small children near water. Children have a natural attraction to water.

- Never dive into rivers or lakes. Every year approximately 3,000 people become paralyzed as a result of diving into shallow water or hitting an unseen underwater obstruction.

Prevent hypothermia

Hypothermia is another concern. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. The body loses heat 25 times faster in water than on dry land. Even in the summer water temperatures can be low enough to cause hypothermia.

AMR paramedics provide these tips to prevent hypothermia:

- If the body of water you're visiting is likely to be cold, bring warm clothing and keep rain gear handy.

- If you're in cold water and can't get out assume the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Posture). Pull your arms and legs in toward your torso, close your legs and keep your arms near your side to reduce heat loss from the groin and armpits. Keep a hat on if you can.

- Wearing a lifejacket makes it easier to put yourself in the HELP position.

- If someone accidentally falls into cold water and is able to get out, dry them off and have them wear warm, dry clothing. If warm, dry clothing isn't available, have them remain in their wet clothing. Even wet clothing layers provide some warmth that may assist in fending off hypothermia. This includes shoes and hats.

Sources: U.S. Coast Guard 2008 recreational boating statistics and The International Life Saving Foundation

American Medical Response Inc.

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