Family turns grief into water safety campaign (concl.)

In our last post, we were talking about a family that lost a father and a 7-year-old son in a boating accident. Even though the accident didn’t happen in Florida, we wanted to share this family’s story. Faced with almost overwhelming grief, the family took action: They started an organization dedicated to water safety. To date, they’ve helped to develop programs in three major safety areas: life jacket use, hypothermia awareness, and weather awareness.Hypothermia. The accident happened a year ago, when the water in the large Missouri lake was near freezing. The family knows that their loved ones might not have survived, even with their life jackets. They’d heard the word “hypothermia” before, said the grandfather, but they didn’t really know how dangerous it is.

When the body loses heat faster than it can generate heat, you’re looking at hypothermia. Heat loss can accelerate if hitting the cold water causes a person to breathe water into his or her lungs. As the body’s core temperature drops, the person — in terms of boating safety, even the strongest swimmer — becomes confused and lethargic. If untreated, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory failure.

The family wants to raise boaters’ and swimmers’ awareness of water temperature. There’s no reason to avoid boating when the water is cold, they say — just be aware of water temperature and plan accordingly.

Changing weather. The weather was calm the morning father and son set out, but it changed quickly and proved too much for their 14-foot boat. The family is wondering if there’s a way to warn boaters of changing weather conditions, to give them time to get to safety. They’ve been researching other states’ approaches.

One idea is to put flashing signs near piers that alert boaters to changing weather conditions — like the highway signs that warn of an accident ahead. The family wants boaters and campers to pay attention to weather patterns, maybe through a Marine Band radio. These radios broadcast any Coast Guard “small craft advisory” that warns of high wind.

In truth, the organization’s mission is to make sure no other family goes through the pain and loss this family has experienced. And, sometimes, a little awareness goes a long way.

Source: News-Leader (Springfield, Mo.), “After boating tragedy, family makes push for water safety,” 03/26/11