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Two drowning deaths and two different boating accidents around Memorial Day weekend have Highland Lakes officials advocating extra precaution on the water. 

“Water is inherently dangerous,” said Alissa Magrum, executive director of Colin’s Hope, a Central Texas water safety nonprofit. “But there are things you can do that make you and your family safer around it.”

Colin’s Hope is named after 4-year-old Colin Holst, who drowned in an Austin health club pool in 2008.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 years old in Texas. In 2021, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that 76 youths ages 17 years and younger drowned in the state. Of those, 67 were 10 years and younger and 52 drowned in pools. As of June 1, 2022, 17 children have died due to drowning in Texas, the department reported. Over the Memorial Day weekend, a mother and her 4-year-old son died while swimming in Lake Buchanan

Anyone can drown in any situation, Magrum said. 

It’s fast, and it’s silent,” she said.

Knowing and following the law certainly helps prevent water accidents. 

For example, life jackets are required by law for anyone in a boat, canoe, or kayak as well as on a standup paddleboard, said Kim Sorensen, Boater Education manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“The No. 1 thing with boating and water safety is wearing a life jacket,” Sorensen said. “I encourage families to wear life jackets when they’re swimming near the boat. You just never know when you might get tired and begin to struggle.”

On May 29, the Sunrise Beach Volunteer Fire Department responded to a boat fire on Lake LBJ. The boat’s engine erupted in flames, forcing the family of four — two adults and two children — to jump into the lake. They were all wearing life jackets and were successfully rescued. Without those life jackets, the situation could have turned tragic, VFD Chief Dan Gower said.

Sorensen also reminded boaters of a law requiring anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, to take a boating safety course before operating a boat on public waters. Check the TPWD website for course availability. The department also offers a free, online paddling course for people using kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards.

Sorensen stressed that those behind the wheel of a boat should take it as seriously as driving a car. Drinking and driving laws also apply to boats, and using a cellphone while operating a boat is just as dangerous as it is while driving a car. 

“You have to focus on what’s going on around you,” Sorenson said. “On the lake, you have boats and watercraft coming in almost any direction, so you need to be aware.”

If things do go wrong, someone should pull a person in distress out of the water while another person calls 9-1-1, said Lt. Vaughn Hamilton, Marble Falls Area EMS training officer and paramedic.

Once the person is out of the water, if they aren’t breathing, begin CPR. The EMS offers monthly CPR classes for the community at no cost. The next one is 5:30 p.m. June 29 at the  main facility, 609 Industrial in Marble Falls. Email Hamilton at vhamilton@mfaems.org for more information and to register. 

No matter where you are swimming — lake, river, or pool — Hamilton strongly urges having designated adults keep their eyes on the children, even if they are wearing flotation devices.

“If you’re going to take a child swimming, then take the child swimming and forget the cellphone or any other distractions,” he said. “Eyes always have to be on the child, and you have to be within reach of them if the water isn’t clear.” 

Lakes and open water bring additional challenges and dangers, pointed out John Hofmann, the Lower Colorado River Authority executive vice president of Water.

“The lakes are beautiful and fun, but they are not swimming pools,” he said. “The lake bottoms are uneven, and, particularly in a lake like Lake Travis, there are sudden drops and irregularities in the lake bottom. So, one minute you can be in two feet of water and then, with the next step, you can be in 40 feet or more.”

Hamilton of the Marble Falls Area EMS and Magrum of Colin’s Hope point to what the water safety organization calls “layers of protection.” That includes taking swimming lessons, or refreshers for adults who already know how to swim, appointing a “water watcher” to keep an eye on young swimmers, and always wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. 

Colin’s Hope recently started a second website, drowningispreventable.org, which offers a number of resources, including water safety quizzes that parents and caregivers can work through with their kids

Other online water safety resources are Be Lake Wise and TPWD’s Water Safety.

daniel@thepicayune.com