The tragic drowning of a Great Falls man who was swimming in Belt Creek near the Sluice Boxes area on Wednesday is a good reminder for swimmers, boaters, floaters and anglers to use caution in and near the water.

Water levels are higher and swifter in rivers throughout Montana due to spring runoff, and recreationists should be aware of extra risks that come with high flows. These conditions can change rapidly, creating new and hidden hazards for boaters. Water temperatures are also especially cold this time of year, which increases the risk of hypothermia.

Even if you’re on shore, keep water safety and rescue equipment with you, including life jackets, floatation devices and throw ropes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.”

Here are some tips to keep you safe when you’re on the water:

  • Using the proper size and type of life jacket is crucial for all swimmers to be safe while recreating. To properly fit a life jacket, hold your arms straight up over your head and ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up. Make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your chin or face.
  • Make sure an adult is constantly watching children swimming or playing in or around the water. Have children playing near water wear life jackets as there may be steep drop-offs you are unaware of.
  • Don't consider your children to be “drown-proof” because you enrolled them in swimming class. A child who falls into water unexpectedly may panic and forget learned swimming skills.
  • Always swim with a buddy. Never swim alone or unsupervised. 
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous to swimmers and boaters.
  • Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as water-wings, noodles, or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets. These are toys and are not designed to keep a swimmer safe. 
  • When boating, children under 12 years of age must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, but it is recommended that everyone on the boat wears a life jacket.  
  • Jumping from cliffs or bridges is dangerous because of shallow water, submerged rocks, trees, or other hazards. Never dive head-first into water.
  • Never drink alcohol before or while swimming or boating. Never drink alcohol while supervising children.

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