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posted: 5/31/2012 5:00 AM

Stay safe on suburban waterways

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  • The water recreation season has barely begun and already we've seen the drowning of a child and some serious problems involving alcohol. Let's resolve to think safety this summer.

    The water recreation season has barely begun and already we've seen the drowning of a child and some serious problems involving alcohol. Let's resolve to think safety this summer.
    Daily Herald File Photo / Steve Lundy slundy@daily

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Last Saturday night, a Crystal Lake man was charged with operating a boat under the influence after he drove his craft over the bow of a pontoon boat, throwing a woman from the pontoon boat and seriously injuring her.

A week earlier, a Naperville man was arrested on Nippersink Lake, operating his boat with 11 people on board and, according to authorities, a blood alcohol content nearly four times the legal limit.

And on Sunday, a family went swimming in Jericho Lake in Montgomery, despite a sign admonishing would-be swimmers to stay out. A 10-year-old boy from Elgin drowned.

And it's not even June yet, when the real trouble on our waterways usually starts.

Some cases are just plain stupid, some just the result of poor judgment, all potentially tragic.

Here are some sobering statistics, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study of data between 2005 and 2009 found that drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, and the highest cause of injury death among children 4 and younger in the U.S.

Each year on average almost 3,900 people in the U.S. are victims of drownings and about 5,800 more are treated in hospitals for close calls.

The largest percentage of young children who die of drowning don't perish in bathtubs but in swimming pools.

Among the close calls, children 4 and younger accounted for 53 percent of emergency room visits; children 5 to 14 years old accounted for 18 percent.

A previous CDC report indicates two-thirds of drownings among those 15 and older occur in natural water settings -- ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans.

The CDC strongly suggests that alcohol use be avoided while swimming, boating, water skiing or supervising children. Alcohol clouds your judgment, but it also makes bad swimmers of us all. It messes with coordination, balance and stamina. The effects of the sun exacerbate it.

Alcohol use is involved in as many as half of the adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation.

Last year, the Lake County Sheriff's Marine Unit made 47 arrests for OUI.

In many cases, people riding in boats or swimming aren't properly equipped to do either.

For 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that in nine of 10 recreational boating drownings, the victim was not wearing a life jacket.

If you own a boat -- of any kind -- get your kids some formal swimming instruction. The CDC says it can reduce the risk of drowning in toddlers by 88 percent. Make sure that those who aren't skilled at swimming use floaties.

We're blessed with many beautiful lakes and rivers in the suburbs. Enjoy them. Just use your head.

And don't throw caution -- or your life -- to the wind.

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