On July 29th, a lively gathering took place by the front porch of Sullivan’s Island Elementary School for the highly anticipated Children's Water Safety Course. Excited children, parents, and dedicated volunteers from the Aux Coast Guard adorned colorful life jackets as they warmly welcomed members of the local community. Animated chatter filled the air as children joyfully reunited with their friends at the registration table, where they were provided with name tags and Aux Coast Guard stickers. Taking their places on the lower steps of the porch, the children eagerly awaited the commencement of the course, while parents happily assumed the role of attentive bystanders on the upper area of the porch. Leading the 60-minute program was Aux Coast Guard instructor Susan White. The shaded porch offered a welcome respite from the morning summer sun and humidity, providing participants with much-needed comfort. Once everyone had checked in and settled in their seats, Susan White embarked on the program. In the Lowcountry, our waters teem with various marine animals that we coexist with. Drawing from her own childhood experiences growing up at the beach, White emphasized the importance of being aware and cautious when encountering other marine life while swimming. She shared a useful tip: when spotting a fin above the water, observing its movement is key. A fin that travels straight across the water belongs to a shark, whereas a fin bobbing up and down indicates a porpoise. We are fortunate to have an abundance of swimming locations in our local environment, White emphasized the significance of choosing these spots wisely. She cautioned against swimming near oyster beds, as the sharp shells can cause severe injuries to one's feet or other body parts. Another hazardous area to avoid is boat ramps, which often become covered in slippery algae, pluff mud, and other organic materials, posing a risk of slips and falls. Additionally, hidden beneath the water's surface at the bottom of ramps, one may encounter forgotten anchors, rusty fishing hooks, and broken glass. White even shared a personal anecdote of having a piece of glass embedded in her heel from swimming! "Can you swim?" White asked the children, eliciting a chorus of enthusiastic hands shooting up into the air and resounding affirmative voices. Undoubtedly, swimming ability is arguably the most vital aspect of water safety for children. Given the diverse local environment encompassing the sound, ocean, rivers, creeks, and numerous pools, White stressed the importance of continuously practicing and improving one's swimming skills. Equally crucial is the implementation of the buddy system, never swimming alone. White highlighted scenarios where someone might have fallen into the water and be unable to swim. When an individual feels they are on the verge of drowning, fear grips them, causing them to panic—a state White likened to that of the incredible Hulk. In the event of someone falling into the water, what is the best course of action? "Reach, throw, and do not go!" advised White. Attempting to rescue a friend by physically going to them can hinder your own swimming abilities and prove dangerous. Instead, survey your surroundings for items that can aid in the rescue. If you have something that floats, such as a pool noodle, life jacket, boogie board, or a fender, gently toss it toward the person in need. Aim for their chest, not their head, to prevent potential head injuries. Another method of helping a drowning individual is to pull them back to the boat or shore. Towels or wooden limbs can serve as makeshift "ropes" to safely retrieve and bring your friend to safety. To provide children with hands-on experience in handling emergencies, a child-friendly skit was performed. In this interactive activity, one child simulated needing help in the water, while another child "rescued" them using items commonly found in the environment. White instructed the children to get down on their knees, lower their center of gravity, and stabilize themselves as they rescued their friend from the water. Through this engaging exercise, participants gained valuable firsthand knowledge on how to handle emergencies safely and calmly. In the event of someone falling off a boat, the first step is to shout "man overboard" as loudly as possible and point out the person's location in the water. The boat's driver should then steer the bow of the boat towards the person, keeping the motor away from them to prevent harm from the propeller. Spotting someone in the water can be challenging, so throwing them something that floats helps to keep their head above water and assists the driver in navigating the boat. Highlighting the utmost importance of wearing life jackets on boats, White compared their significance to that of wearing seatbelts in cars. Before the children embarked on practicing proper boat etiquette, each one was shown how to correctly put on and wear a life jacket. To simulate a genuine boating experience, Ted Kinghorn, from Isle of Palms LENS Lieutenants Program, brought an actual boat, allowing the children to safely practice boarding and disembarking. Organized into groups of five to mimic boat capacity, the children were guided on where and how to sit properly on a boat. Kinghorn personally assisted each child as they climbed aboard, cautioning them about the dangers of sitting on the gunwale, near the motor, or at the bow of the boat. Sitting at the tip of the boat can lead to being thrown into the water due to its movement with the water, while sitting near the motor poses its own risks. Designated seats on the boat were emphasized as safe places to sit. As a token of appreciation for their participation, the children were treated to popsicles and were gifted a water safety coloring book to serve as a reminder of the valuable lessons learned. Thanks to this comprehensive program, local children gained valuable knowledge about proper boat etiquette and acquired essential skills for saving lives in emergency situations.
My girls learned more than I thought they knew. I always assumed that they were listening to me about water safety. Apparently, I was incorrect. When they got home, they showed their Dad how to save someone from the vantage of a boat. They got down on their knees and showed how to throw items overboard. I will say that you have have saved a life. I grew up on the water and learned a thing or two. Know that you are doing well by your community. Even if is just one life.
- Patricia Clanton