KEEPING YOUR HEAD ABOVE WATER

May 24, 2002 12:00 am
Life jacket lift: Dani Sturm, a first-grader at Island City Elementary School, is lifted by Roger Cochran, the Union County Sheriff's Department marine deputy. Cochran was demonstrating how sturdy a properly fitted life jacket is. (The Observer/Phil Bullock).
Life jacket lift: Dani Sturm, a first-grader at Island City Elementary School, is lifted by Roger Cochran, the Union County Sheriff's Department marine deputy. Cochran was demonstrating how sturdy a properly fitted life jacket is. (The Observer/Phil Bullock).

It is one of many reasons why Roger Cochran, the Union County Sheriff's Department marine deputy, urges people to stay with their boats after they have capsized.

"Most boats have two or three air boxes,'' Cochran said. "A boat will not sink if it has flotation compartments.''

Cochran wants people to remember this as Memorial Day Weekend begins and boating activity picks up significantly in Northeast Oregon.

In preparation for the unofficial start of boating season, Cochran recently completed a series of at least a dozen presentations on water safety at elementary schools throughout Union County. One of the things he urged children at each school was to always stay with their boat if it capsizes.

Cochran stressed that staying with a boat increases chances of survival because it provides something to hang on to and gives rescuers something to look for.

"If someone comes to rescue you it is much easier to see a boat than a person,'' Cochran said.

The best way, of course, to enhance your chances of survival is to wear a life jacket.

"Wearing a life jacket is like wearing a seat belt in a car,'' Cochran said. "It gives you a chance to live.''

The sheriff's deputy said that nine people in Oregon have drowned this year in water accidents. None of the victims were wearing flotation devices.

"All of them might have lived if they had been wearing life jackets,'' Cochran said.

Cochran said it is important that people have confidence in their life jackets. The 6-foot-2 marine deputy picked up a small life jacket at Island City Elementary to make his point.

"As big as I am, if I was conscious it would keep me on top of the water,'' Cochran told the children.

It is critical that children not wear life jackets that are too large, Cochran said. An oversized jacket will cause a child to float upside down because the lower body mass of children is not enough to allow them to stay upright.

People should wear life jackets designed for their weight range, Cochran said. Weight ranges are listed on U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jackets.

Infants need to wear a specially designed life jacket that has a pillow cushion for the head and flotation for the chest side. These features keep an infant's face out of the water.

WEAR CONTINUOUSLY

People with properly fitted life jackets should wear them at all times. Cochran said that many people mistakenly assume they can wait until their boat capsizes to put their life jackets on.

But boats capsize in seconds. In the process, most of the gear is catapulted out on the water where it is not accessible.

Even if life jackets are retrievable is unlikely people would have time to get them because of cold water temperatures in this area.

RELAXATION AND FLOTATION

The key to floating with or without a life jacket is to relax.

"If you are afraid you can't float, if you are tense and rigid you will sink like a rock,'' Cochran said.

The greater one's swimming ability the better their chances of overcoming difficult situations if thrown in the water.

"Learn to swim very well. If water is cold or you have just eaten you will have a better chance (after falling in the water) if you are a good swimmer,'' Cochran said.

Regardless of how good a swimmer one is, Cochran urges people never to dive in after someone who has fallen in the water because of the peril they face. People who do not have life-saving training do not know how to pull somebody out. In many cases, the individual who is drowning is so panic stricken that he or she will pull the person trying to save them under.

"The risk is high that there will be two fatalities (when an untrained person jumps in to save someone),'' Cochran said.

People are better off trying to find someone who can help.

"It is better to go for help than to try to be a hero,'' Cochran said.

People are also urged to toss anything buoyant to the victim. Items such as ice chests, beach balls and even empty milk jugs that have lids can be very helpful.

"Anything that floats will help,'' Cochran said.

Cochran gives the following advice to children needing help who are tossed something in the water.

"Hang on to it like your favorite teddy bear,'' he said.