Dunk the Straw

Dock at Lake

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatics Safety Expert

This was a tragic case where a young competitive swimmer drowned in a freshwater lake when he became entrapped under a dock.

A beautiful private lake with many open water features including a beach, docks, boats, and inflatable obstacles courses catered to families.

The lake club also had a competitive swim team.  Unfortunately, a popular game at the lake that just about everyone played, including lifeguards and members alike, was called “dunk the straw.”  This required a player to take a straw, swim to the bottom of the lake to a depth of 12 feet and stick the straw into the muddy bottom.  Other players waited for the straw to rise to the surface.  When it did, the person who captured the straw then became the dunker.  One practice of the dunker was to deceive the others on the surface as to the placement of the straw on the bottom by swimming far away underwater prior to surfacing.  In this case, the young boy who dunked the straw probably was doing this when he swam under the dock and either hit his head on the steel structure or became unconscious from holding his breath too long.  His friends waited a long time for the victim to surface, running back and forth on the floating dock.  Finally, after not finding the victim, the boys told the lifeguards.  The lifeguards were poorly trained and were not prepared to handle the reality of a missing swimmer.  Too much time was spent deciding what to do, and when an in-water search was finally conducted it was disorganized. Mask, fins, and snorkels were not used as the standard of care dictates.  A large settlement was offered to the family.  Lessons learned:  Underwater games are dangerous and should be banned.

Lifeguards, especially at open water facilities, require comprehensive training.  Supervisors and managers need to be qualified and be certain their lifeguards are qualified as well through constant in-service training.

Categories: Aquatics Safety Expert | Drowning | Tom Griffiths


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