It’s only fairly recently that I learned that almost half of all drownings in the State, as well as on Kauai, take place with snorkelers. We reviewed some aspects of snorkeling in a recent issue, and in this issue we’ll again examine this and hopefully we’ll learn some things that can help ourselves and that can allow us to help others.
In many ways the issues underlying this are the same issues that cause the many other ocean-related crises that can arise, and I’ll run down a list: Jumping in without knowing the conditions and possible hazards that you’re jumping into; overestimating your own abilities and conditioning; panicking when you find that a current is pulling you further out to sea than you’re comfortable with; drinking alcohol before you go in; not having a companion or a buddy; snorkeling where there is no Lifeguard; snorkeling without fins.
In addition to these factors, snorkeling has some unique elements that can put you at risk: Getting entranced by the underwater beauty you’re seeing and then losing track of where you’ve gone and how far out to sea you may have wound up; having water get into your mask and not being trained or prepared for this; having water go into your snorkel so that when you inhale, you inhale water and not air.
Reading this litany you can see that every single one of these risks can be avoided, can be prevented. They can be prevented by the snorkeler taking some time to understand what he/she is about to do. And if you’re a visitor renting the snorkeling equipment, they can be prevented by the sales person spending a few minutes with you going over them.
As far as solving one of the problem once they may have started taking place: Most of them come down to avoiding the common denominator of most ocean mishaps, namely panic. Surfers are among the world’s experts in knowing about the terrible danger of panic. Try this: Sitting on your living room couch, count how many seconds you can hold your breath. Many of us can do it for one minute, some of us can do it for 2 minutes, and people who have trained for this can do it for 3 or more minutes, sometimes even up to 6 minutes. But if panic takes hold, your one minute goes down to 3 seconds before you’re gasping — and inhaling water if it so happens that you’re in the water and not sitting on your couch. Surfers, when they’re being tumbled around and held down by a large wave, are masters of staying calm and avoiding panic — and then working their way out of their predicament. They have to be or else they’ll die.
I could go over the items on this list one by one. For example, if you get water in your mask, first don’t panic, then tread water and take the time to re-adjust your straps and the mask’s position. Get your buddy to help you with this if need be. Another example: To avoid breathing water in through your snorkel, make sure you always exhale before you take your breath. And better yet, tell the renting company that you want to rent a “dry snorkel” — one which has a one way valve that usually does a great job of not letting water come into the top of the snorkel, whether you’re on the surface in choppy conditions or whether you’ve taken a dive underwater.
Working In Tandem To Avoid Family Tragedies
I have to confess that i haven’t had the time to rate each rental outfit in regards to how much they do or don’t do in educating their clients. I hope they are all doing a great job. I mentioned in a prior article that the gold standard is the rental company at Maui’s Kaanapali Beach Hotel. They have immediate access to a swimming pool and if they determine you’re a novice they won’t rent you the equipment until they’ve trained you in the pool. For companies that don’t have this convenience, their duty has to be to spend time creating and then reviewing a list such as the one I’ve drawn up at the beginning of this piece, including equipment demonstrations with each and every client.
The responsibility for a drowning is shared. Certainly the victim can often be seen as not having prepared himself or herself for what they’re about to do. And the victim’s friends and equipment renters can usually see that they didn’t do a good enough job of helping the victim not have a tragedy occur. I hear 2 different sayings: One is “no one can help you if you don’t help yourself.” And the other is “we are our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.” These sayings can be seen as being opposed to each other. However, there is another way to see them, namely as being able to work in tandem to avoid family tragedies.
Thank you as always to Syngenta for sponsoring my quarterly pieces. And thank you Kauai Family Magazine for providing this publication which can hopefully help families live happy and healthy lives. Have a great summer, and to those of you who will be enrolled in Kauai’s fabled Junior Lifeguard program — Have a great experience.
Aloha, Monty Downs, M.D.