Water safety keeps the splash in summer fun

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— Summer in Steamboat can be filled with aquatic fun, from swimming and tubing to boating and water skiing. Before you and your friends and family take to the water, however, make sure each of you is aware of the possible safety hazards and the best ways to keep safe.

Learning to swim is a key factor in water safety and in reducing the risk of injury and drowning. Drowning is the United States' second leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death to children under age 15. Learn-to-swim programs geared for all ages are available at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center. Parents can take infants as young as 6 months for swimming lessons. Health and Rec also offers a variety of community water safety programs that emphasize strong swimming skills and take participants through scenarios featuring water hazard problems and solutions.

One sure way to catch a thrill on a hot Colorado summer day is by sitting at the helm of a boat or speeding along behind on water skis or a wakeboard. Enjoy the rush of fresh air, but don't throw caution to the wind. Safety is a primary concern for rangers along the shores and on the waters at Stagecoach State Park. Rangers conduct boat safety inspections on a regular basis, hoping to educate boaters in the process.

"We're checking for fire extinguishers, sounding devices, and most importantly, personal floatation devices," Stagecoach State Park Ranger James Thiele said. Regardless of the swimming ability of the people involved, PFDs that are properly fitted and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard need to be available for all on the boat.

Familiarity with park rules and regulations while on the water is vital, according to Amy Frakes, Stagecoach State Park ranger. "Boats traveling in the wrong direction and persons swimming in undesignated waters are some of our most common violations," Frakes said. All boats should travel counter-clockwise on the reservoir. Rangers frequently stop boaters and park visitors to explain the rules and regulations and, in some cases, issue tickets.

Since Colorado weather patterns change so rapidly, it is important for all water craft operators to stay constantly aware of conditions and return to shore if threatening weather is approaching. Keeping a cool head is important, and Yampa Valley Medical Center trauma coordinator and emergency department nurse Steve Hilley has important words of advice on that subject.

"Refrain from all alcohol and drug use while on the water," he said.

Summer water enthusiasts keep Routt County Search and Rescue and Steamboat Springs Fire Department Dive Team members busy. The volunteer groups spend time on the Yampa River and at Stagecoach Reservoir and Steamboat Lake practicing for water rescues. When called out for the real thing, rescuers often find experienced water recreationalists who underestimated the power of the water or failed to return home when expected.

"An excellent safety measure is to always let others know where your plans are taking you and when to expect you to return," Routt County Search and Rescue President Jamie Neault said.

By far, the most important aspect of water safety is to integrate it into all your plans for summer fun. By learning the basics, you can immerse yourself in waves of safe summer fun.

Bonnie Boylan is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center

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