Mild Water Sports & Safety Tips
Many of us are raised with a fear of being in water - of drowning, being eaten by water predators (like sharks, snakes, or crocodiles), or being electrocuted in a lightning storm while swimming. Although all of these things have happened to a relatively few number of people, nearly all of them have been preventable.
This article shows water adventures coupled with standard preparations that relieve fear and keep the adventurer safe.
Fear of Water: Aquaphobia
A 1998 Gallup poll commissioned by competitive swimmer, Melon Dash, showed that 46% of American adults are afraid of deep water in pools and 64% are afraid of deep open water. Those are huge percentages. Many of these people have never experienced the thrill of conquering challenges in water, because they haven't let themselves get close enough to water for even small thrills.
While avoiding water doesn't really help, hazard prevention could. Knowing the potential dangers and seeing them as somewhat distant from you, yet still taking precautions, is the best safety guarantee a would-be adventurer could have. Keep in mind that simple, basic preparation will do when you're with someone experienced.
A 1998 Gallup poll showed that 46% of American adults are afraid of deep water in pools and 64% are afraid of deep open water.
Childhood Experiences with Water
Most adults learned about danger by having been incautious as kids, having people around them be incautious, or having loved ones who were afraid of water. Most adults also learned the safety corollaries as children. Those who didn't carry fear with them until they become adults and consciously retrain themselves, however long that takes.
When I was seven my family took a steamship to New Zealand. On the way we crossed the equator, where the ship's crew held a party around the swimming pool for first time equator-crossers. As part of the celebration, my younger brother and I were painted with melted ice cream and thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Unfortunately, the bucket was thrown in too, which hit me on the head and for a second I couldn't breathe. The lifeguard dived in and saved me . . . but I was mortified. From then on I made a mental note to take a deep breath before letting myself be pushed into water.
One day when I was eleven and body surfing in the ocean alone, I got caught in a serious riptide. Unable to catch a breath, I almost drowned. But something told me I didn't need to breathe and I should let myself drift. It worked. That day taught me about the value of staying confident and its alter-ego, the life-threatening danger of panicking.
The following experiences with water adventures include preparations and precautions to help you, if you are aquaphobic, to gain confidence with having such adventures too.
Watersports 1: Whitewater Rafting
Experience: In 1983 a friend took me whitewater rafting down a Class III/IV portion of the South Umpqua River in Oregon. Both river guides and all fourteen or so rafters were women. Most were experienced. My friend and I were not, but I was not afraid. I trusted the others to tell me what to do.
I remember clearly when we hit the rapids and flew over a 12 foot waterfall. Sparkling bright water drops surrounded us and I rose to my feet cheering, holding the oar above my head as we flew through the air. The instant we smacked down, I dropped to help paddle furiously around a whirlpool. Staying focused and listening to the guides, I knew exactly what to do. Both rafts made it safely downriver, as did the numerous kayaks that kept us company. It was a great day!
Dangers & Safety Tips: In whitewater rafting, good equipment and a clear river route are all-important. We could have capsized at any of the critical danger points or lost our gear or someone could have fallen out. The trip was organized by a professional river guide company. This is how they prepared:
They checked both rafts and all lifejackets for leaks, made sure there were enough oars, and made sure the boats were inflated enough.
They checked the weather to make sure the river would be safe enough to travel that day, and checked river reports for any obstructions to the flow.
They checked their radio equipment to make sure it was functioning, in case they needed to call for help, and made sure they had everyone's emergency contact information and a signed waiver.
- They checked to make sure their pickup people were in place at the end of the ride, and that they had enough bottled water available for everyone.
- In turn, we made sure we had appropriate warm clothes, identification on hand, food to eat, and were alert and well rested.
Watersports 2: Ocean Sailing
Experience: One day a few friends and I decided to take the decrepit-looking mail boat from Grenada in the West Indies to Carriacou, its sister island, to celebrate Carnival. There we danced and partied with hundreds of costumed people in the streets all afternoon. When it was time to go, we discovered that the boat's motor had broken down. By the time the boat was fixed and we boarded for home, it was night and starting to cloud up.
Halfway home the storm broke. Rain poured down in sheets. The cabin was tiny and already full, so everyone on deck grabbed big pieces of cardboard to hold over their heads. The scene was surreal. Moonbeams peeking through the clouds showed shadows of hunched shapes of all sizes on deck. Through the sound of wind and waves and rain you could hear people murmering and occasional disembodied voices calling out. As the rain passed, the wake of the boat glowed with blue and green bioluminescence and every surface sparkled. Time drifted. Eventually the clouds broke apart to show the moon fully and we made it back to Grenada's harbor in safety.
Dangers & Safety Tips: Sailing at night is relatively dangerous, especially when the skies are cloudy. It's hard to see where you're going, and difficult for instruments to read signals through the cloud cover. In storms, there is danger of being blown into rocks if too close to land, or blown out to sea and getting lost. With sailing, especially on the ocean, it's crucial to have a motor and rudder that work, good navigation equipment, extra gasoline, and sails without holes.
Good preparation for a sailing trip includes taking the following precautions:
- Testing communication equipment ahead of time to make sure it works. Carrying navigation maps on board, in case instrumentation breaks down. Making sure there are lifeboats and lifejackets on board and they function properly.
- Taking on extra food and water. Making sure any passengers have brought their own as well. During the storm, keeping people calm. Panic only makes a situation worse.
- Knowing how storms work and how to read intensity and likely duration. Making sure the helmsman and crew stay alert to circumstances.
- Staying away from land, unless approaching a harbor. You don't want to get blown into rocks. If the storm is really bad, turning into the wind and holding position as closely as possible until the storm blows over. Never mind if you'll be late to your destination - better late than dead.
Watersports 3: Snorkeling
Experience: I went snorkeling (skin diving) one day in Grenville Bay on the east side of Grenada. The bay is enclosed by a beautiful coral reef, which was a delight to explore, with all kinds of brightly colored tropical fish of all sizes and shapes. There were small rowboats plying between the reef and shoreline.
I stayed out for about an hour, enjoying the water, exploring both sides of the reef. The only problem I had was minor - not knowing how to keep my mask clear. Not once did I feel any danger. However had I not been aware of what snorkeling entailed I might not have fared so well.
Dangers & Safety Tips: Coral is sharp and can easily cut unprotected feet or skin as you brush by. The little animals that inhabit coral can sting your skin or infect raw spots. Seawater sucks freshwater out of your skin, so staying in too long can cause dehydration. Your snorkle could fill up with water just as you take a deep breath. If a storm comes up, causing the water to fill with silt or backskatter, visibility would decrease and a snorkeler could get lost. Sharks sometimes lurk on the outside of a reef, since that's where they feed, and bleeding feet would attract them. Unexpected eddies could push you off course.
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When preparing for a snorkeling trip, follow this list:
- Check into renting a skindiving kit consisting of mask, fins, and snorkel. If one is unavailable, then bring good quality gear with you.
- Make sure you're in somewhat good shape before going. Practice working with fins and swimming underwater. Learn how to blow out your snorkel and clear the inside of your mask while in the water.
- Consider going with a dive buddy, so each of you keep an eye out for the safety of the other.
- For the more serious snorkeler, consider diving in a wetsuit and kevlar gloves, especially if you want to explore tunnels or hold onto the reef at all. This will help prevent cuts, infections, and dehydration. Also bring a reel and line for exploring interior areas.
There's a rocking, floating, soothing, exhilarating feeling of being on water that well compensates for the possibility of danger (which actually just adds spice).
Other Water Fears & Hazards
There are many other hazards unique to the type of water activity engaged in - like knockouts from surfboards or sailboards, carnivores like mosquitoes or leeches, floods or even the panicking of other swimmers.
When you approach water adventures of any kind, it increases confidence to know the ropes and be well supplied to meet whatever circumstances you find. Research the Internet, talk to friends about their adventures, take workshops. Equipment can be purchased new or be picked up at a rummage sale. Having said that, it's much easier to prepare than it sounds, and simple preparation can make all the difference in the world, justifyingly increasing your confidence.
Now that I'm older I would have to build my muscles again to be confident that I could handle such risks. Most people would say I shouldn't go anymore, but be happy basking in the adventures I've already had. Would it be worth the trade? Not really, not in my boat.
Which of these water adventures would/do you most like?
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