Summer is coming, and as Navy service members and their families look forward to road trips, swimming, and other fun outdoors, the Department of the Navy reminds them to stay safe.
The “101 Critical Days of Summer,” which officially starts Memorial Day weekend and runs until Sept. 4, is a time of increased off-duty recreation—and with it, increased risks of sports injuries, car crashes, and other accidents and injuries.
The majority of off-duty recreational mishaps are entirely preventable and avoidable.”-Naval Safety Command
“Potential lapses in judgment while engaging in summer activities can impact the readiness of Sailors and Marines,” reads a 2023 101 Critical Days of Summer presentation released by Naval Safety Command. “The majority of off-duty recreational mishaps are entirely preventable and avoidable, provided we assess risks and comply with laws, procedures, and recommended best practices for a given activity.”
Lives lost in summer 2022
According to the presentation, 29 Navy Sailors and Marines lost their lives last summer to preventable off-duty mishaps. It attributes 19 of those deaths to motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents—11 motor-vehicle fatalities and 8 fatal motorcycle mishaps.
“Motor vehicle related deaths rise during the summer months. We see an uptick in all types of recreational type injuries,” said Barbara Vandenberg, Naval District Washington safety program manager. “People are going on leave more. People are taking more trips. People are dusting off and riding their motorcycles that they haven’t ridden all winter. And all those things contribute.”
The presentation reminds motor-vehicle drivers to follow the rules of the road, never drink and drive, and avoid “distracted” driving—i.e., texting or checking email while driving—and driving while sleep-deprived. Vandenberg said that texting and driving is “a big issue that we’re seeing on-duty and off-duty contributing to mishaps.” She added that drowsy driving is a concern as well.
“That’s particularly true in the summertime and on weekends, when military personnel get a 96-hour leave and they want to go as far as they can. They might get off on a Friday at noon and hit the road right away without getting enough sleep, and they drive too far.”
Roughly 10% of Sailors own motorcycles
An estimated one in ten Navy Sailors owns a motorcycle, according to the presentation.
Traffic data from many sources show that motorcyclists suffer higher rates of serious injuries and fatalities than car and truck drivers.
“This is particularly so in the DC area, where traffic is not always conducive to motorcycle riding. It’s a dangerous area to drive anything around in, but particularly motorcycles,” said Vandenberg.
The presentation calls for all motorcycle riders to complete a Navy-approved motorcycle safety course, always wear a helmet with a face shield or protective eye wear, and protect the hands and limbs by wearing gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. And always wear boots or shoes that fully cover the feet—no sandals or open-toed shoes.
Team sports a concern
Team sports are another area of concern. According to the presentation, sports games are a leading cause of summertime injuries, especially basketball and softball. Its recommendations include warming up and stretching before playing any sport and wearing proper protective gear. It also advises making sure that you are physically ready to play.
“A lot of people get outdoors over the summer and play sports they don’t normally play and maybe haven’t played in a while, and that contributes to injuries,” Vandenberg said. “Maybe you don’t play softball a lot, and you go to the family reunion and play softball, and you’ve forgotten how to move your body.”
Swimming poses additional risks: The Navy lost one Sailor last summer to drowning, according to the presentation. It advises knowing your physical limitations, never swimming alone, avoiding fast-moving water, and being careful not to be out in the sun too long.
Outdoor grilling also has safety issues. The presentation cites a U.S. Fire Administration finding that more than half of home grill fires occur in May-August. It advises keeping grills clean, regularly checking for leaks, grilling away from rails, the deck, or overhanging branches, and never using any fluid except starter fluid.