Keeping your nose and toes above the water could save your life

Keeping your nose and toes above the water could save your life

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - In just eight days, five people in South Carolina lost their lives in the water.

Three of those drownings were in Midlands rivers. And SCDNR officials say they could've been prevented if proper safety precautions were taken.

"All five of the drownings would have been prevented if the individuals would've had a life jacket on. In all of my years of being a game warden, we've seen people die with a life jacket on because of exposure, but I don't know of a single person that's ever drowned while wearing a life jacket," said Sergeant Rhett Bickley.

When it comes to river swimming, safety experts say it's all about respecting the power of the water. They say even the strongest swimmer can't outswim Mother Nature.

"You get in the water thinking it's calm and the current underneath can catch you," Bickley said. "Or you can get into a current up top and get pushed into places you don't want to be. It's a hard thing to fight. It's a strong force of nature."

In the Saluda River, home to some of the region's strongest rapids, 700 cubic feet of water rush through every second. That amounts to more than 5,000 gallons of water, which weighs nearly 42,000 pounds.

"The best thing you can do is go with it, relax, drift with the current until you can get down and get close to a bank or a rock that you can grab and hold onto to stay alive," said Bickley.

In addition to currents, the Congaree Riverkeeper points to entrapments and strainers as the top reasons swimmers find themselves in trouble.

"Let's say my foot got stuck under this rock right here. Behind me is a lot of water and a lot of flow, and it could end up pushing me over. If you can't get your foot out, you could end up bent over underwater and you could drown," said Riverkeeper Bill Stangler.

Strainers act in a similar way, allowing water through but not people. Stangler says it only takes a second to get forced under when there's nowhere else to go.

That's why he says nose and toes should always stay above the water to minimize your risk of getting caught on obstacles lurking beneath the surface of the water.

SCDNR says alcohol also plays a role in many of the drownings it responds to. When it comes to these most recent drownings, the coroner's office says toxicology reports won't be available for another week or two.

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