The recent "Third Lake tragedy" is terribly tragic and similar to another area boating-related drowning several days ago. The lure of a refreshing swim on a hot day is hard to resist; however, swimming off a boat has unique and often unforeseen dangers.
Often, healthy, young and strong swimmers jump in impulsively, but they need to assess the situation first. Rivers and even inland lakes frequently have changing currents not detectable from the boat.
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Windy conditions will often push a boat (especially a pontoon boat) quickly separating swimmers from their boat and safety. Both situations can make swimming to safety nearly impossible. Other boaters on busy waterways may not see or anticipate off-boat swimmers, resulting in the swimmers being struck.
Another little-known unseen danger for swimmers in marine areas is ESD (electrical shock drowning). Boats or marina equipment can leak electrical current into surrounding waters, electrocuting unsuspecting swimmers.
These tragedies are often simply classified as drownings but are easily preventable with properly installed ground fault technology.
In short, swimmers should always swim in safe-designated swim areas, swim with a swim buddy and have life jackets. A Coast Guard-approved life ring is a must, as is a "swimmer" spotter remaining on board. Swimmers and boaters, remember to assess the situation before impulsively jumping in.
Charles Nozicka, Medical Director
Advocate Condell Medical Center