Whitney Woolward still remembers her first rescue as a lifeguard.
A man swimming laps in a pool got a cramp in his leg and couldn't swim any farther. She froze for a fraction of a second before her training took over.
The satisfaction of pulling someone to safety immediately hooked her on the job.
"I like helping people, and I like being in the pool," said Woolward, 24, who also teaches swim classes at Henry Brigham Young Swim Center.
Woolward gets mixed reactions when she rescues people from the pool. Most swimmers are grateful, others embarrassed, and a few are indignant.
"They can't believe they were in danger of drowning," she said.
Woolward encourages parents and children to learn how to swim so they can truly enjoy the water. It makes swimming safer and provides good exercise during the summer, she said.
- Watch out for the dangerous "toos" -- too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.
- Pay attention to weather conditions. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.
- Set water safety rules for the whole family based on swimming abilities. Inexperienced swimmers should stay in water less than chest deep.
Source: American Red Cross
IN RIVERS AND LAKES
Three men learned how quickly swift-moving water can turn dangerous Saturday evening while swimming in the Augusta Canal.
Firefighters and paramedics were called out to the Augusta Waterworks after a sudden surge in the water level left the swimmers stranded. All three men were able to make it to shore on their own, but first responders had to physically carry one man to a waiting stretcher.
The man, identified only as Seth, was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital with mild hypothermia, said Battalion Chief Michael Weathers.
One of the men, Daniel Jenkins, said they had been out for several hours exploring the area when the water level jumped from knee-deep to chest-deep.
"We were panicking for a few minutes," Jenkins said.
Weathers said the likely culprit was a release of water carried downstream from Thurmond Dam.
Weathers has made several rescues in this area before and said he expects others this summer. He strongly warns against swimming in the canal.
"This water is dangerous stuff," he said.
Even if you're in a boat on a lake or river, there are safety rules to follow, the first being wear a life jacket.
"That's just imperative," said Sgt. Mark Padgett, of the East Central Region of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Georgia law says there should be a life jacket for everyone aboard a boat, but rangers check for quality as well as quantity.
Life jackets stored out in the elements will mildew and decay, which makes them worthless in an emergency. A ranger who determines a life jacket is unusable won't include it in a count of life jackets on the boat, Padgett said.
The only people who need to wear a life jacket at all times are children younger than 10. That's why it's a good idea to have a ring buoy or cushion to throw to someone who falls overboard without a life jacket.
In Padgett's experience, a lot of people don't expect to be boating at night and don't take the time to make sure the boat lights are working.
That can be a problem if an emergency keeps someone on the water after dark.
Also, lake levels are low, making familiar waters a minefield of stumps, rocks and shoals.
Collisions between boats are another source of danger. It's much easier to let your mind drift when piloting a boat because there are no lanes to stay in, Padgett said.
When boats collide, one usually lands on top of the other, crushing passengers or slicing them with propellers. The people on the top boat are thrown into the water as the watercraft comes to an abrupt stop, Padgett said.
- Never dive into a lake or river.
- Coves can be farther than they appear. Don't overestimate your swimming ability.
- Don't rely on inflatable rafts, toys and armbands. They can deflate in seconds and leave you or your child stranded.
- Don't swim in cold water. Warm air temperatures don't necessarily mean warm water temperatures.
Source: Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District
AT THE BEACH
Being caught in a rip curent is like running in slow motion in a nightmare; there's no conquering it no matter how hard you struggle.
"It's the same sense of panic," said Chris Brewster, the president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association.
Rip currents form at any beach when the waves break in an irregular pattern. Typically, currents are slow, but they have been measured at speeds of 8 feet per second.
Swimmers can identify a rip current as a column of choppy or discolored water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An ocean swimmer caught in a rip current will notice he's suddenly farther from shore and rapidly being pulled into the ocean. It's easy to panic, especially when the victim tries to swim straight back to shore and discovers the current's grip.
Even the most competent swimmers will quickly exhaust themselves trying to fight the current.
"You could swim hard against one and actually go backward," Brewster said. "It's like swimming upstream."
The key to escaping a rip current is swimming parallel or diagonally to the beach instead of directly toward it. Continue swimming in that direction until you feel the rip current lose its grip.
- When possible, swim at a beach with a lifeguard; never swim alone.
- Stay at least 100 feet from piers and jetties, where permanent rip currents often exist.
- If caught in a rip current, keep calm to save your energy.
- Think of a rip current like a treadmill that you cannot turn off; it's useless to fight it, so swim at an angle to "step off" the treadmill.
- Wave your arm and yell to draw attention to yourself if you cannot reach shore.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration