Electric Shock Drowning – Completely Preventable!

Just this past Labor Day weekend, we lost a young life in Raleigh, North Carolina to Electric Shock Drowning (ESD). A teenage girl drowned after entering the electrified water. Prior to this incident, a 15 years old lost her life in Smith Lake, Alabama to a tragic ESD incident. The teenager’s father had lowered a metal ladder to the water to help her on board without realizing that the ladder was leaking electricity. A nightmare that no parent should live with.

Drowning due to electric shock is not much talked about or mentioned frequently in the news. Nevertheless, it is still a threat, particular, in the fresh water near docks or boats with electric connectivity. The ESD stats available may not be a true indication of the reality since many deaths are simply classified under ‘drowning’.

ESD happens when a human body makes contact with water that is ‘electrified’ due to a faulty electric connection, damaged live power cord, and faulty or no ground fault protection. Human body serves as a conductor and even a small fraction of electricity can paralyze the muscular system, impair breathing and eventually lead to drowning.  A ground fault protection mechanism is meant to help detect electricity leakage and turn the power off.

Every boat comes with an owner’s manual and every dock or marina owner is required to follow certain protocol to keep it safe. But at times, negligence and accidents do happen. What can we, as swimmers, do to protect ourselves? Again the common sense should prevail – DO NOT swim near the boats, marinas or docks, which have electric connections.  If you ever feel a jolt, swim away from the boat or the dock.

Even though statistics undermine the actual numbers, we need to pay attention since ESD is completely preventable. According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, since the experts started tracking recently, there have been over 60 incidents of ESD, several near misses and likely hundreds of deaths have gone unreported; a random sampling of shore power cords in the several freshwater marinas in the US displayed 13% of the boats were leaking lethal amount of electric current into the water. Alarming statistics for something that is completely preventable!

– Meghna Sil

Unsafe Water – Rio Olympics

Today many of the news media is buzzing with ‘Don’t put your head under water’ while in Rio.

The Olympics is less than a week away and the waters of Rio are infested with human sewage, bacteria and viruses. Correct, I am talking about the water venues where open water competitions are to take place and putting around 1,400 athletes at health risk.

I have been keeping a close eye since the Associated Press (AP) published its first report in June 2015 on water quality of the open water venues for the Olympics. The findings were quite disconcerting – the analysis of the water samples indicates high contamination with bacteria, viruses and sewage. I know for sure, this amount of contamination in the US water bodies would have been deemed unfit for any kind of water sport, let alone Olympics. Initially it was thought the hazards were closer to the shore, but by Dec. 2015 it was confirmed that the hazards were off the shores too. Some even feel water concerns in Rio is overblown, and I truly hope that is the case.

The latest AP report that just came out is equally concerning, nothing much has changed in past year since the last report. None of the ‘promises’ made by the authorities to improve the water quality were kept. Of course, the athletes have taken all possible precautions, including antibiotics and anti-viral medicines. Is it fair to make the athletes compete in unsafe waters when they have worked hard and built their dreams around representing their countries in Olympics?

I am passionate about making water sport safe. I am not talking about only safety against drowning, but also safety from health hazards. Growing up in the US, we take the water quality for granted. All open water bodies I have been to have safety hazards clearly posted.

Considering the IOC awarded 2016 Olympics Rio in Oct. 2009, the Olympics authorities and Brazilian government had enough time to address the water quality issue. I strongly urge the IOC to use this as a learning opportunity and put some checks and balances in place for countries prior to awarding Olympic Games in future. We want our athletes to showcase their talents in hygienic environments.

My best wishes to the athletes competing to their full potential and come out of the water unscathed and their dreams fulfilled.

– Meghna Sil

Water Wings – not advisable

Red Cross found 67% (two-thirds) of those surveyed believe putting inflatable arm bands or water wings on children is enough to keep them safe when an adult is not nearby. Red Cross warns against using water wings, and so does Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, many of the water wings come with the warning sign – ‘this is not a life-saving device’. The sign means what it says, literally.

Water wings give children a false sense of security and make them over confident even if they do not know how to swim or tread water. Remember, these inflatables are not fault-tolerant. They may leak or deflate with no warning. They can even easily slip off the arms of the kids. Ever thought of the possibility that a child can voluntarily take it off or puncture it while in water?

Interestingly (and rightfully so), some towns in New Hampshire are taking steps to not to allow water wings on their beaches. Simple reason – inflatable ‘floaties’ provide a false sense of security.

Water wings keep the body vertical, a posture that a child may get used to. A habit that may be hard to break out of – it can make a child resist to use correct horizontal posture and motion, and hence impede the learning process. The goal should be to teach the child to swim at the earliest and not to get them used to a ‘crutch’.

The safer floatation devices are the ones that are not inflatable. The children and inexperienced swimmers should rather wear US Coast Guard approved life jackets. Even with the life jackets, the children should be under constant adult supervision. Even better is to follow ‘touch supervision’ method, stay within an arm’s length of the child at all times.

Every summer the stores stockpile supplies with all kinds of water wings and other inflatable ‘floaties’. And as expected, parents line up at the cashier registers to pay for what they think are safety devices.  I hope my message reaches, directly or through my readers, to those who still think water wings are safety devices.

Learn to swim right!

– Meghna Sil

Movies and TV shows – wrong about drowning

Any drowning scene from a movie or TV show, more than likely, portrays a drowning victim flailing arms and screaming for help. Sometimes, the victim is even able to gather enough strength to surface repeatedly above water and scream for help. Eventually, depending on the scene, the victim either drowns or is rescued, but this perpetuates an entirely wrong depiction of reality. In reality, there is hardly any splashing, waving or screaming, and the victim quietly sinks beneath the surface of the water, like the way the sun quickly slips beneath the horizon during the last minutes of dusk. Drowning is almost always quick, silent and unspectacular.

Unfortunately, these misleading depictions by TVs and movies do influence how drowning is perceived, and impairs our ability to identify a drowning victim and our subsequent response. Many preventable child drowning incidents happen within a close distance from the parents, as there are no cues to pick on like screaming and splashing to draw their attention.

According to CDC report, on an average 10 people die daily due to unintentional drowning in the US alone. 20% of such victims are children under 14 years of age. For every child that dies, five children need ER care for non-fatal submersion injuries. Some of the non-fatal injury victims suffer brain damage and long term disabilities. About 10% of these drownings, particularly of younger children, happened within a safe distance and under the ‘watch’ of the parents. Parents failed to recognize the child was drowning.

During drowning the victim’s natural instincts takeover, and the victim becomes incapacitated to perform any voluntary action like waving arms for help, moving towards safety or screaming for help. Breathing is essential to survival, but not speech. In order to avoid actual or perceived suffocation, the natural instinct forces the victim to extend arms laterally and press down on the water surface to lift the mouth out of the water to breath – a phenomenon referred to as Instinctive Drowning Response. Unless rescued, the struggle lasts for only 20-60 seconds before the victim loses consciousness and submerges under the water.

What some people confuse flailing of arms and scream of help with drowning is Aquatic Distress (or panic).  Unlike drowning, during aquatic distress the person has mental ability to scream for help, and respond to rescue efforts like holding on to rope, ladder, lifebelt, etc. Nevertheless, the victim still needs help. I personally have been a victim of aquatic distress. That’s for another article.


Drowning is silent, but let us break the silence to get the message out on drowning misconceptions.


– Meghna Sil

Innovation & Swimming – Helping Resurface

During the summer of 2015, circumstances brought four like-minded high schoolers with similar interests.  The problem in front of us was – why drowning even among professional triathletes was high and what can be done?

Late night brainstorming and long hours in the labs resulted in a successful and working prototype of an inflatable device that can be worn as an armband and can be easily inflated on-demand by pull of a string. The device is capable of taking a swimmer up to 350 lbs. to safety when the disaster strikes.  ReSurface was born!

– Meghna Sil

Prevent Shallow Water Blackout – don’t ignore your body signals!

As part of my research on swim safety and drowning prevention, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying Shallow Water Blackout (SWB), a nightmare for elite swimmers. As more and more swimmers are pushing the envelope of physical endurance, I feel that swimmers need to pay more attention to SWB drowning. Death of two NAVY Seals last year in a Virginia Beach training pool was attributed to SWB. Even a recent death of a Dartmouth varsity swimmer in Florida was initially suspected to SWB drowning and later attributed to a rare heart condition per the autopsy report.

Chances of SWB happening is higher for professional and well-trained swimmers -who do rigorous underwater training or underwater breath holding for increasing their endurance limit. Underwater training by itself is not the cause; it happens when the swimmer stretches the ‘boundary’, let the competitive spirit take over without being aware that it may lead to SWB. Statistics show drowning among the well-trained swimmers is mostly due to SWB.

Under normal circumstance, as oxygen is metabolized in our lungs, the O2 level goes down and CO2 level goes up. The brain ‘monitors’ the CO2 and when the level rises to a threshold value, it sends the signal and urges the body to breathe. A professional swimmer (when the competitive pride and sense of invincibility takes over) can suppress the urge to breathe and deprive the brain of Oxygen. Alternatively (done more often), swimmer can trick the brain by lowering the CO2 level by hyperventilation before diving into the water. The starting CO2 level is so low that even if it rises while the swimmer is underwater, it never rises to the threshold before the brain is deprived of O2. Due to O2 deprivation to the brain, the swimmer passes out. Eventually, the CO2 level reaches the threshold and the body gets the urge to breathe and that results in lungs filled with water and eventual drowning.

Despite the concept of Shallow Water Blackout is being understood, there is a general lack of awareness among the swimmers and coaches. Even though I am not a professional swimmer, I have never been told by any coach of the implications of rigorous exercise (that can cause hyperventilation) prior to underwater swimming or breath holding can cause blackout.


Sense of invincibility is important to winning, but stay tuned and respond to your body signals.


I am glad to see that recently some famous swimming personalities, including Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman, have taken upon themselves to bring awareness to other coaches and swimmers. We definitely need more Phelps and Bowmans! Some local governments, and swimming facilities are taking steps in the right direction to implement policies to prevent SWB. A good start, but a long way to go!

– Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 5

Continuing from the previous articles on swim safety wearables…

As I have said before, different technology enabled swim safety devices cannot necessarily prevent drowning; they can assist with early detection of a swimmer in distress and draw attention of otherwise distracted parents/guards. The technological advances have evolved over the years, but they still have a long way to go.

One of the recent innovations in drowning detection systems is SEAL System. It essentially creates a virtual wireless network between the SealBands (worn by swimmers), GuardBands (worn by lifeguards and/or parents), and a compact, portable, centralized monitoring Hub. One Hub can monitor dozens of SealBands.

When operational, each swimmer band continuously reports its status to the central hub and to the guard/parent bands using radio signals. The hub registers any interruption in signal and if the interruption is over a certain pre-determined time, it sets the alarm in the Hub, the particular SealBand and the GuardBands. The pre-determined time limit is set for each SealBand. When the SealBand is submerged in water, the radio signal to the hub is interrupted. The alarm is highly audible and visual, and it also makes the bands vibrate.

SealBand

One of the perceived downside of this system could be – it does not provide the location of the swimmer in distress. However, once the alarm is triggered the band provides a visual ‘glow’ to easily locate the distressed swimmer. But, it may not be easy in the open turbulent waters.

This drowning detection system runs on rechargeable batteries. You don’t have to throw away the system (or it’s components) once it runs out of battery – that’s good!

As an added safety feature, the alarm goes off when the SealBand is unclasped in the water. And just based on how the system works, the alarm also goes off when a SealBand gets out of range (since the hub would not get any signal) – this can serve to alert the parents when a child wanders away.

As always, ensure the system is in operating condition before you let you child wear the band and jump in the water.


Around water bodies, any time you can’t find your child, it’s best to begin your search in the water before anywhere else.


Please stay tuned for more upcoming interesting articles on safety wearables.

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 4

Continuing from the previous articles on swim safety wearables…

In my previous articles I spoke about two technology enabled safety devices, Safety Turtle Wristband and Aqua Alert Wristband. These devices are for non-swimmers and mainly meant to alert when they come in contact with water. For this and next upcoming articles, my focus will be on devices that are more advanced, configurable and also work as a safety device for swimmers, particularly, young swimmers and novice swimmers.

Coupe of points I would like to reiterate:

  1. Even though these safety devices provide an extra layer of protection, learning to swim and also swimming under watchful and vigilant eyes still remains the best defense against drowning.
  2. These devices DO NOT prevent drowning, they function only as alerts and the rescue personnel still need to bring the swimmer to safety.

iSwimBand is a simple band that can be worn as a headband or wristband or strapped to the goggle and is useful for both non-swimmers and swimmers. This band uses Blue Tooth technology to communicate with smart phone running either on iOS or Android via a mobile app. The band sends a signal to the smart phone when the swimmer is submerged for more than a pre-set value or a non-swimmer enters the water. The device has a limited range of 30 meters of direct line of sight. Up to 8 iSwimBands can be linked to one device.   The device runs on a non-replaceable battery – some users might see that as a limitation even though the manufacturer claims the battery can run for 100 hours. The device goes to sleep mode after 10 minutes of inactivity. In my opinion, having an indicator to display the remaining battery life could have been a nice feature.

DSC_0877

A device is good as long as it works when the need arises. As much as we desire, there is no 100% guarantee that these devices will deploy when there is a true emergency. The safest bet is to test the devices from time to time to ensure performance, particularly, before getting into the water. Also, if the device relies on another device or mobile app, please ensure those devices and apps are up and running too.


Always ensure the device you are wearing is in working condition before plunging into the water.


Please stay tuned for more upcoming interesting articles on safety wearables.

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 3

As I had mentioned in some of my previous articles, recent trends do indicate many consumers turning towards technology to add an extra layer of protection against drowning. The focus has mostly been on children and non-swimmers, and rightfully so. Children, novice-swimmers, and non-swimmers are more vulnerable and have a greater threat of drowning. That being said, even swimmers and professionals are susceptible to drowning.


Drowning of a child can happen in 2 seconds in 2 inches of water.


Even though safety devices provides an extra layer of protection, learning to swim and swimming under watchful and vigilant eyes still remains the best defense against drowning.

Supplementing supervision with safety devices is a great idea. Some products that come to my mind right away are, Safety Turtle Wristband, iSwimBand, My Buddy Tags, Aqua Alerts Water Activated Wristband, and SEAL Systems. These wearables may have different underlying technologies, but they all either activate alarms and/or send alerts when the device either comes in contact with water or is submerged in water over a preset time. These devices DO NOT prevent drowning; the responsibility still falls on the person watching the swimmer.

Safety Turtle Wristband is a simple wristband which debuted in 1999. This is primarily for non-swimmers (including pets) who are not supposed to be submerged in water. As soon as the wristband, hooked remotely to a base station, becomes wet it activates a high decibel alarm (via radio signals) in the base station. Some of notable features of this device are – it is highly portable; easy to setup and operate; multiple wristbands can be ‘hooked’ to one base station; each wristband comes with a lock/key so the kids cannot take them off; reasonably good battery life of 3-4 years; and normally, it doesn’t send false signals on water splashes and spilled drinks.   The range is limited to 60-70 meters direct line of sight and can be impacted by trees and walls.

Safety Turtle2

Safety Turtle

Safety Turtle Wristband is not a floatation device and does not guarantee the safety of your child, and one still needs to respond to the alarm. Be always aware of the whereabouts of your child whether it is near the bathtub at home or around the neighbor’s swimming pool or on a beach.

Aqua Alert – Water Activated Wristband is an all-electronic band with a simple design that is easy to put on and off. This wristband sounds a high decibel (110 db) alarm when it comes in contact with water. The alarm can be heard up to 150 feet. Some of the features that I liked are – a very simple design and operating mechanism; comes with a lock/key so that kids cannot take it off; and the activated band can easily disengaged just by shaking it. Best of all, the company donates part of the sales proceeding to Justin’s Club, a non-profit organization that cares about prevention of childhood drowning – a noble cause!

aqua alert2

Aqua Alert

Like Safety Turtle Wristband, Aqua Alert Wristband is not a floatation device. Be extra alert if you are in a noisy place, because the surrounding noises can ‘drown’ the sound of the alarm.


When a child is near water, there is no substitution to parental vigilance and supervision.


Please stay tuned for more upcoming articles on safety wearables.

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 2

As I had indicated in one of my previous posts, many swimmers do not desire a conventional life vest while swimming. Moreover, life vests are not permitted in competitive sport. How about a way to ‘tuck’ the life jacket away to minimize interference with your swimming?  SwimIT does exactly that for you. Even though this personal floatation device (PFD) was conceived in 2012 to provide security to the triathlon swimmers, it can serve a purpose in other open water (and indoor pool) sports and activities.

SwimIT primarily consists of a life jacket and a CO2 cartridge tucked in a ‘pouch’ that inflates with the pull of a tab.   To better serve its purpose, the life jacket is tethered to the pouch with a 5 ft. chord and the pouch is strapped to the upper leg.

Some might argue about SwimIT’s size, but its simple and ingenious design lends itself to the ease of repacking of the life jacket and replacement of the CO2 cartridge. Allowing the non-propriety cartridges reduces the dependency on one source (in this case, manufacturer of SwimIT).   Once the life jacket is deployed, a swimmer can strap it around his or her neck and easily swim to the shore.   SwimIT is legal for most of the competitive swim races, including Triathlons and Ironman races. Of course, if deployed during the race, one would be disqualified. In my opinion, it is an easy choice between being disqualified or drowned. What would you choose?

During the swim portion of the triathlon, a number of swimmers have admitted to experiencing panic. Crowded waters, water current, and the adrenaline rush (and sometimes cold temperature) do not help either. Panic attacks can lead to undesired consequences. Having a PFD like SwimIT allows you to focus on the race and a peace of mind that security is within your arms reach.

If I were to use SwimIT, I would:

  • Ensure the ‘pouch’ and the straps fit well
  • Ensure the tab to inflate the life jack is easily reachable
  • Practice inflating the life jacket under different conditions until I feel comfortable
  • Learn to fold and pack the life jacket in the pouch and replace the CO2 cartridge
  • Advise the user to try it out under varying swim conditions, even though the company states that the device is protected against unintended deployment
  • Know the maintenance routine and ensure it always stays deployable

If I had to race in a triathlon or compete in any open water swimming, SwimIT would be my choice of safety device.


I like the simplicity of the design and ease of its use (and reuse).


– Meghna Sil