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Tennessee Water Safety 101

Tennessee routinely sees temperatures above 70 degrees between spring and fall. That’s a great thing for families because it means we can enjoy our lakes, rivers and pools more than half of the year. It also means we need to stay diligent about water safety year round.

Here are some water safety tips to keep your family safe.

Know your family’s water competency

While the Red Cross encourages everyone to learn to swim, they also set out minimum skills for water safety, which you can use as a benchmark for the basics.

These skills include being able to:

  1. Step or jump into water that comes over your head
  2. Return to the surface and float or tread water for 1 minute
  3. Turn around in a full circle and find a way out of the water
  4. Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping
  5. Exit the water without using a ladder

If a family member doesn’t meet these minimum qualifications, use extra caution and insist they wear a life jacket.

Follow rules when near a dam, powerhouse or lock

There are dozens of dams and reservoirs in Tennessee, and a large amount of water can be released from them at any time. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) suggests the following precautions to stay safe near these structures:

  • Never go into the water alone
  • Always wear a life vest
  • Make sure your waders don’t have any holes and use ties to stop water from entering the boots
  • In colder weather, use a wetsuit if you have to be in the water often
  • Read the rules posted near dams and stay out of restricted areas
  • Plan a quick exit route from the water to the bank in case of emergency
  • Don’t fish, swim or wade below dams when warning signs (horns, strobe lights) are present, and exit the water quickly if you see those signs
  • Leave the motor running when boating below a dam to prevent stalling
  • Never anchor your boat below a dam
  • Fish, swim or wade below a dam only during low-flow periods

You can check the water safety levels of common Tennessee waterways here.

Practice boating safety

If you’ll be boating:

  • Make sure your navigation lights are operating properly
  • Get familiar with your surroundings before you go by reviewing a map of the area online
  • Never drink alcohol if you are driving a boat
  • Always wear a life vest
  • Exercise caution near dams
  • Follow good boating practices, starting with TVA’s rules of the road for recreational boaters

Take precautions when paddling and kayaking in rivers

Even slow stretches of river can have hazards. Always:

  • Wear a helmet and personal floatation device
  • Dress to prevent hypothermia in colder weather
  • Watch for fallen tree limbs, barbed wire, piers and other hazards
  • Don’t paddle or kayak alone, after floods or after heavy rain
  • Never fish, wade or paddle too close a dam

Remain aware around community and hotel pools

While many public pools will have someone in charge of safety, that’s not always the case, and even when it is, you should take a few extra precautions:

  • Scan the pool and see if the appropriate lifesaving equipment (buoys or rings) are present; If they’re not, tell someone
  • Feel the water; If it feels extremely hot (104 degrees or hotter), it increases the risk of heat stroke, especially for people with heart disease or chronic health problems
  • If the water is cloudy, ask an administrator about water safety; If it is deemed safe, remind kids not to dive in since they can’t see the bottom.
  • Shower before you enter the pool to help prevent the spread of disease or infection

Know how to react if you’re caught in surging water

If you are swimming, boating or kayaking and you find yourself overcome by water:

  • Drop any items weighing you down
  • Stay calm, lie on your back and keep your feet up and pointed downstream to avoid getting caught
  • Swim on your back with the current and then swim diagonally toward shore
  • Don’t attempt to stand up until you’re in shallow, slow-moving water
  • If you get trapped on an island, stay there and signal for help

Spot the signs of drowning and take action

No matter where you’re enjoying the water, you need to be able to react if you believe someone is drowning. Here are the steps:

  1. Recognize the signs of someone in trouble and shout for help
  2. Rescue and remove the person from the water, only if you can do so without putting yourself in danger
  3. Ask someone to call 911, or, if you’re alone, give 2 minutes of CPR and then call 911
  4. Begin rescue breathing and CPR
  5. Use a defibrillator if available and transfer the person to advanced life support ASAP

Know water safety myths

Now that you know the basics, continue to educate yourself on water safety. Here are 4 common myths to be aware of:

  1. Someone who is drowning will splash and yell
  2. You should wait an hour after eating to swim
  3. If you know how to swim, you don’t need a life vest
  4. You should practice holding your breath under water

Learn all about the 4 common water safety myths here.

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