Background: Risk factors for drowning are largely undocumented among military populations.
Hypothesis: Accident report narratives will provide important information about the role of alcohol use and other behaviors in drownings among active duty male U.S. Army soldiers.
Methods: Using a case series design, we describe drowning deaths reported to the U.S. Army Safety Center (1980-1997), documenting associated demographic factors, alcohol use, and other risk-taking behaviors.
Results: Drowning victims (n = 352) were disproportionately young, black, and single, with less time-in-service, and no college experience. Most drownings occurred off-duty (89%). Alcohol use was involved in at least 31% of the cases overall. Alcohol use was also associated with a 10-fold increase in reckless behavior (OR 9.6, 95% Cl 4.5-20.7) and was most common among drownings in Europe (OR = 4.3, 95% Cl 1.5-13.4). Most drownings occurred where no lifeguard was present (68%), but almost two-thirds occurred in the presence of others, with CPR initiated in less than one-third of these cases. Drownings involving minority victims were less likely to involve alcohol, but more likely to occur in unauthorized swimming areas. While most drownings did not involve violations of safety rules, over one-third of the cases involved some form of reckless behavior, particularly for those under age 21.
Conclusions: Intervention programs should be tailored to meet the needs of the demographic subgroups at highest risk since behavioral risk factors vary by race and age. CPR training and skills maintenance can improve survival rates. Narrative data are important for developing hypotheses and understanding risk factors for injuries.