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Marine Corps Installations Pacific

Water, boating safety paramount

By Lance Cpl. Donald T. Peterson | Marine Corps Installations Pacific | June 13, 2013

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- From spending time on a watercraft to enjoying recreational swimming at a beach, water activities are a popular way to beat the summer heat on Okinawa.

Unfortunately, these activities can lead to dangerous situations if people are not aware of potential hazards in their surroundings.

“When conducting water activities in open water, it’s important you are aware of the current sea condition and weather forecast for that day,” said Shawn M. Curtis, the deputy safety director of Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler and Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

There are three different sea conditions: sea condition all clear, which is the ideal condition for water-related activities; sea condition caution, during which hazardous conditions may exist and one should exercise caution while entering the water; and sea condition danger, which denotes the existence of possible life-threatening conditions.

As of April 30, the III Marine Expeditionary Force/MCIPAC Order 5101.1, Change 1, permits personnel to enter the water during SC-D under the following conditions: for recreational daytime swimming at areas on or off base staffed by lifeguards and open to the public for use, professionally monitored athletic competitions staffed with trained rescue personnel and taking place aboard Okuma Beach, Torii Station and White Beach, or when an installation’s commander determines the sea state is safe enough for water activities.

The number one cause of off-duty fatalities for service members stationed in the continental U.S. is motor vehicle accidents. However, on Okinawa the leading cause of off-duty fatalities is recreational-water activities.

“From 2000 to 2004, roughly 50 percent of all recreational drowning-related fatalities in the Marine Corps took place on Okinawa,” said Curtis. “Since April 2004, the installation safety office initiated an aggressive water safety campaign. We posted signs at the most hazardous coastal locations, in Kanji and English, to warn all personnel. Since then, the loss of service members engaged in water sports has been greatly reduced. In 2012, there was only one water-related fatality within the military community on Okinawa.”

The greatest threat personnel face while swimming in coastal waters are rip currents, according to Curtis.

Rip currents are created as water moves away from the coast and back to sea between two obstructions such as reefs, piers, jetties or sandbars, added Curtis. The water follows the path of least resistance, which is through deep underwater terrain features, causing a channel of fast moving water which may pull a person farther out to sea.

“What you should do if you get caught in a rip current is stay calm,” said Curtis. “Panicking will exhaust you, which often leads to drowning. Keep yourself afloat until the rip current drags you out into deeper water where it dissipates. Then, swim along the shoreline out of the current or at an angle toward shore. Furthermore, try to get someone’s attention on shore by waving your arms or shouting, so they can get you help.”

Some recommended precautions to take prior to swimming are to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back, have a way to contact help if something goes wrong, never swim alone, and remember that sea condition all clear does not necessarily mean the water in the area is completely safe, according to Curtis.

As well as being safe while swimming, one should also take proper precautions before using a watercraft.

“Prior to operating a boat, there are a few things you should always ensure before launching the vessel,” said Curtis. “Ensure the boat has enough appropriately sized life vests for each member aboard. You should provide a manifest with names of everyone onboard to a responsible person on land, such as a marina employee. You should also ensure that the boat is in good working condition, that you have enough fuel and oil for the day, and a communication device is aboard to contact emergency services if needed. The worst place to have engine problems or run out of fuel is when you are already in the water.”

For more information pertaining to water and boating safety and sea conditions visit the MCIPAC safety office’s website at: http://www.mcipac.marines.mil/LivinginOkinawa/WaterSafetyInformation.aspx.
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