For today’s interview, the Child Safety Source podcast is speaking with Mario Vittone. Mario is both a water safety expert and a boating safety expert. He’s had a storied career as a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer and beyond. As a writer, he wrote a rather famous article on drowning.
In this episode, Mario spoke with Life Saver Pool Fence President Eric Lupton about his personal story, his writings and his hopes for the future. You can watch it in full, below:
Learning More About Mario Vittone
In our video interview, anyone can see that Mario Vittone is passionate about water safety. When we look back at his career, we realize that this is an understatement. As you can probably tell from hearing him speak, this short bio from his website offers only a hint of his knowledge:
Mario Vittone’s first experience with at-sea emergencies was as ship’s company aboard the USS Coral Sea, a WWII-era aircraft carrier. In 1991, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Mario graduated from Helicopter Rescue Swimmer School in 1994 and began his career in helicopter rescue. His career includes two tours at Air Station Elizabeth City, one at Air Station New Orleans. Ultimately, Mario served as an instructor and course developer at North Carolina’s Aviation Technical Training Center. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2013 following four years as a vessel inspector and accident investigator in Norfolk, Virginia.
Today, Mario is recognized as a leading expert on immersion hypothermia, drowning, sea survival, and safety at sea. His writing has appeared in Yachting Magazine, SaltWater Sportsman, MotorBoating Magazine, Lifelines, On-Scene, and Reader’s Digest. Each and every week, Mario writes about safety at sea for Soundings Magazine.
For his writing, Mario was the 2009 recipient of the Alex Haley Award for Journalism. Of course, this doesn’t mean he’s retiring to a life of writing. Far from it, Mario has developed courses about search and rescue tactics and open ocean survival for rescue teams. In 2007, he was named as the Coast Guard Active Duty Enlisted Person of the Year.
For more information about Mario Vittone, visit his official website.
You can read Mario’s writing here:
This was a very fun and informative interview, Mario. As with all of our episodes, we’re extremely grateful that you took the time to speak with us.
Below is a Direct Transcript of the Child Safety Resource Interview with Mario Vittone from June 26th:
Eric- Hey, Mario!
Mario- Hey, how you doing?
Eric- So for anyone–for the four people who don’t know–Mario used to be a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer. He is a water safety expert, he’s a boating safety expert. He used to serve on the board of the National Aquatic French alliance and does a host of activity in regards to open water safety and boating safety. He wrote I’m going to say famous article on drowning, that drowning does not look like drowning that has been shared. How many times has that been reviewed though? You know?
Mario- If you just count my site slate and gCaptain, I think it’s 26 million on those three sites.
Eric- Wow I was not expecting you to say that.
Mario- That’s those three sites, he’s been translated into seventeen languages and I haven’t given a count. I finally just released it to the public domain so hopefully less people to ask if they could print it. I still get asked and I say it doesn’t belong to me its public domain. And every summer it just gets a resurge on different website. Soundings got another couple million views just this summer.
Eric- What made you want to write that?
Mario- It started, the article I had a version of it that was then On Scene Magazine. I wrote for the Coast Guard in 2007 and what prompted that article was a rescue case where I wasn’t on the case I was back in the shop and the guy walked in and told the rescue swimmer… a friend of mine told the story that he was… He went out it was a family that overturned their boat overturned in a squall in Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. And the pilot said it looks like they’re fine and there was people in the water treading water looking at the helicopter. The pilot it looks like they’re fine and the rescue swimmer said no sir it looks like they’re drowning. I was interested in that difference how did the pilot think they’re right find a swimmer thought they didn’t look fine.
You know what these two guys think different things about drowning and I had before that I had worked at the Secret Service for three weeks helping a friend of the guy that ran the program Jim Corey the water safety program back in the day. And we sort of we scammed—-the Coast Guard and the Secret Service we scammed each other. He made the Secret Service believe that the Coast Guard wanted to send me and I made the Coast Guard believe the Secret Service asked for me and I got three weeks at the training center to teach those rescue swimmers. But I got to go through his course too. And that’s where I saw first Frank P’s videos from the 1970’s on drowning and it showed he had recorded drownings at that beach in New York. You know and so there would be a child drowning and an adult swim by or walked by and have no idea. That’s all video’s from the 70’s. And he coined the phrase Instinctive Drowning Response. So I had exposure to that training and I knew it was a swimmer was talking about and I wrote that article drowning doesn’t look like drowning.
And then I tried to give it away—-I sent it to Reader’s Digest and the Parade Magazine. These magazines I thought that you know might be interested in the version that I wrote and nobody wanted it. That said it was too dark and no one of them wanted it. And so John Conrad at Captain said “Well I’ll put it up on my site” and he did. This was in 2010 and Facebook was really start to become a thing and it took his website down. It went viral on Facebook and took his website DOWN. And so I put it up on my website and took my website down. That was in summer of 2010 and it really—it was my job—it another full time job that summer answering emails from that initial release when it went out.
Eric- Yeah, I could imagine. So for anyone who doesn’t know you know kind of tell the story what you know what are the misconceptions about drowning.
Mario- The misconception about drowning and hopefully it’s becoming less and less and I think in part because of the way that article spread. This is what Frank Pierce said that so many more people are talking about it than he could get to talk about in the seventies and I think it has a lot to do with the Internet of course. But the misconception is that you can—that people will call for drowning that kids will go there will be a splashing violent event. You know it’ll be a dramatic event you’ll be able to see it very clearly if someone was drowning and they would call out for help. And we see this still—I saw a fire department training video where they were doing training on responding to drownings and their actor in the water was just going nuts.
Eric- A fire department video?
Mario- At a fire department. This was about 3 years ago. And so but in reality a person is drowning cannot call out for help. You know if speech is an overlay to the function of breathing and if you can’t breathe then you can’t stop not breathing so you can take a breath and speak you just can’t do it. Now and I get a lot of pushback on that because “Well I yelled when I was in trouble”, that’s called aquatic distress that means you know you’re at your limits. But real drowning and particularly children don’t go through aquatic distress, they immediately panic if they’re non-swimmers, they don’t have—-they’re less likely to have that moment of recognition of being in trouble. They’re quicker to the instinctive drowning response and so they will make a sound often. Anyone whose life go to that pool a busy pool will remember seeing kids jump in the water and struggle subsurface and you know reaching them pull him out it’s a nonevent but they were drowning that was instinctive drowning response.
Mario- You know and so and that was a lot of comments on the article, from lifeguards who go “You know it was never explained to me. That I knew that’s what it was but it was never explained that way.”
Eric- So what does somebody look for? What does drowning actually look like?
Mario- Well there’s no 100% all the time thing they look like, but primarily the instinctive drowning response—-again what they get what they want is—-There’s a struggle for air, they want freeboard, they want their mouth above the water and they don’t have the capability to do it for whatever reason .they’re not swimmers, the water’s too cold or there they’re hung up on—Whatever the reason is the struggle is the head usually goes back to get the mouth up, the arms go lateral, the arms go outside ways and press down on the surface of the water. So their heads will bob up above and then go below the surface of the water and then that will repeat. There is some splashing but there’s not just deliberate splashing to gain attention.
Mario- The splashing is from their arms extending out laterally and then pushing down the surface of the water.
Eric- I’ve also read that there can be this like climbing invisible ladder kind of thing going on.
Mario- That is there’s what looks like they’re doing the dog paddle but they’re not making way or they’re trying to climb a ladder
Mario- And head back eyes glassy. If they have long hair it’s in front of their face that’s one of the things that lifeguards should now be course trained to look for. Because people don’t like hair in their face and they’ll wipe it out of the way. But if they’re in the instinctive drowning response they’re not controlling their arm movements and they can’t stop drowning to get their hair out of their eyes and so and again they’re bobbing below and above the surface of the water. So people with long hair will be in front of their face and so that’s a real strong indication that they’re having trouble. And there’s others and there are you know there are people that have spun around in there says videos these kids in there they’re swimming looks their struggle is bringing them under water turning them over.
That doesn’t mean they’re not drowning because they’re doing something other than this but the most common indications, the most common reaction to the instinctive ground response is that head bobbing, climbing a ladder, not making much headway, no supporting kick eyes are glassy and unfocused. They’re usually facing—if they’re at a beach they’re usually facing the shore. Because that’s where they want to get to and that’s where the drowning process began. And so but primarily I think what would parents or people who are watching the water should look for is that thing you’re not really looking for. So you know kids you know kids in the water make noise of washing play and move around, if they’re not doing that so you want to pay attention.
Mario– You know so it’s so much you look for the absence of movement then evaluate it. like what is—-Why is that you know— well you know everyone else is moving through the water and playing and that child isn’t and so that’s a you focus on and see how they’re doing you know. And I’m a big fan of just talking to them. “Hey you okay?” and if they go “Yes” then they are and that’s what I’m talking about. That’s an answer, there’s no shame in you know jumping in the water and taking care of it. I’m going to probably get heat for that jumping in the water.
Eric– Pull the kid you know.
Mario- Yeah if you get the water just four feet and you’re six you can probably ump in can jump in untrained and not be a lifeguard and pick up a 4 year old. You’re not going to die.
Eric- Yeah. But I would say refrain o is if someone’s drowning in the ocean and it’s an adult and you’re not trained you probably shouldn’t save them.
Mario- Yes I mean yeah swimming out them can certainly turn out bad for the rescuer, the untrained rescue for sure. But even the trained rescuer depending on how bad that situation is. But there’s this thing that stuck because of everything that rhymes always sticks around for a while, so there’s reach throw row and go. Reach, throw, row don’t go. I mean they’re trying to find a way to make a moniker that you can remember that teaches you how to rescue and I always and I take heat for this I kind of disagree. I should reach if I you know if someone’s at the poolside right and I can reach and grab. I don’t need to jump in, just reach and grab I get that. But it sort of the idea that you’re going to take a lot of time—the instinctive drowner responses thirty to sixty seconds usually and then they’re under. And then we’ve got—now we’re really risking serious aquatic injury and I don’t think you should let that happen because you’re trying to figure out a different way to get to them.
When you know OK you’re non-swimmer, you know and you don’t know the rescue gear. You know jump in, grab the side of the pool, reach out and grab them. You know do something, but don’t stand there and you know [11:20] [inaudible].Think non swimmer and there have been families and its been tragic you know. usually in open water like a river or something who have one child steps off the edge, starts drowning the mother goes to get the child, the mother starts drowning, the dad goes out and then you know all three of them drown. And of course if your skills are that far removed and the environment is that different then you can’t go. But I couldn’t have sat there on the beach on the dad’s shoulder and told him not to go try and save his wife and kid and that work. So that’s why it’s called tragedy because that’s what’s going to happen they’re not going to stand there and go “Oh well I’ll wait for 911”. You know and so you know t’s I think it’s better to be equipped, if you’re not swimmer in the river you should have a life jacket on. You know that’s the message there, not how do I save them. Before you leave the house give me life jackets that’s how you save them in that situation.
Eric- The row part of that always struck me as interesting. You know someone’s drowning where you find a rowing device.
Mario- You know you’re at a beach steal a surf board, you know its fine. But often around pools the amount of flotation around pools is usually pretty heavy. I’ve got I got a pool in my backyard not that it’s a shallow pool so I don’t have a problem, I can stand up in the deep end. But if I couldn’t, if it was deeper there’s the chase lodges have flotation on them. There’s pads that allow them to float. you jump in the water with that between you and the ten year old then the ten year old is going to grab it and you’re both fine.
Mario- Now you’re working a different problem, how do I get to the side of the pool. But I have free board, the child has free board, the drowning is over, now I solve a different problem. And I’ve seen people struggle poolside trying to figure out what to do about that I’m not a good swimmer problem, while standing next to flotation.
Eric- Yeah I guess it’s you know a little bit of situational awareness knowing what to look for. You know realizing that you’re sitting next to a life saving device that you probably had never previously identified as a life saving device.
Mario- I’ve seen coolers used to great effect at a beach. You know actually I saw I saw a really sharp dad pick up the cooler dumped everything out of it and Ran out into the surf and pushed a cooler between him and the kid he saw that was struggling.
Eric- That’s really cool.
Mario- They just held on to the cooler and really waited till they drifted back onto the beach, you know that’s how that worked out.
Mario- And so and I would have just ran out but the cooler would have been a smarter idea for a trained rescuer and I was when I was young and in shape you know I still would have ran out because I wasn’t thinking. But the dad was smarter than I was really you know. Because again you know in drowning you’re trying to solve one problem at a time right and the problem was the kid was having an airway problem. And so he quickly got there with a cooler and then we had a different problem the airway problem solved now I just got to get back to the beach.
Mario- You know and so I was going to go out there and do the whole rescue you know and it’s not that I don’t think I could have pulled it off but they came back not tired and ready to have lunch.
Mario- It would have been a struggle if I you know did it.
Eric- Yeah you would of ran, swam out there, brute forced it, brought it back.
Mario- So yes it’s the young firefighter old firefighter thing you know where the young firefighter you know bust down the door and the young firefighter checks to see if it’s hot in the locked you know opened.
Eric- What gear do you have behind you there?
Mario- Oh sorry I’m in my office that lifesaving systems, this is in my office is the show room. So this is all the rescue gear that we make here. Baskets and ladders, and those are the rescue ladders and those are the harnesses that the guys the rescue swimmers use. And this is the perfect job for an ex-helicopter rescue guy who is too old to hang from a helicopter.
Eric- So why did you decide to join the Coast Guard.
Mario- I was in the Navy and I had gotten out of the Navy and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up and I was walking up and down the beach in New Smyrna Beach Florida and I saw that —– when I was in the Navy I saw this the helicopter rescue guys in the Navy when I was an aircraft carrier. I wanted to do it and they go “Nah we can’t let you do it”. You know I was a radar technician. And you know [16:15] [inaudible] radar training we can’t let you do that. And I went well to get out. And then I want to join the Coast Guard and they wanted me to be a radar technician and I say I want to be rescue swimmer. And so I just had to wait. I just had to wait and I wanted to do it. I thought I’d be good at, you know you know I’m young and I go you want to do what you’re good at or you want to be good at what you do.
Eric- Right. So were you not good at being a radar technician?
Mario- You know I was pretty good at it but I didn’t like it. I could have made a perfectly good living for my life being you know an electronics technician. I have friends that I was on the boat with when I was 19 who are still doing that line of work and are doing fine. It just never
Eric- For you.
Mario- I wasn’t really excited about it.
Eric- So from eighteen to twenty two I’m guessing you’re in the Navy-ish?
Mario- Yeah I turned eighteen in boot camp and then I spent six years in the Navy and then I got out.
Eric- So you so you went early?
Mario- Oh yeah yeah my mother had to sign to have me join when I was 17.
Eric- My dad did the same thing, he went into the Army when he was 17 to get out of his house and he had his mom sign and he volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was seventeen yeah yeah same but you know he got the permission slip and the whole 9.
Mario- Yeah my mother ran down waving a pen. She’s like yes take him please. So I just wanted to do a job and I went the Coast Guard and I almost didn’t do it. I almost because I went in the Coast Guard and I was on a boat with a guy. I was on a patrol boat and my boss was a boat’s mate you know he’s the guy that you know he drove the boat and drove the small boat and he was really cool I really liked him. And when you really like someone you know you want to be that guy and I and this became a boat mate and a boat driver. And then at the last—I mean the very the day I was going to sign the papers and become a boat driver my orders to rescue summer school came in and I see ya and I decided to go that route. It worked out.
Eric- Yeah a little bit I would say so right.
Mario- I’m glad I did it yeah.
Eric- So talk about being a rescue swimmer. What does that entail for anybody who isn’t aware of what that means?
Mario- It’s a lot harder to get the job than to do the job.
Mario- So people always say that but it’s true. It’s really hard to get the job.
Eric- I guess kind of like any kind of special ops, Navy Seals, you know it is not hard to get in you know.
Mario- It’s hard to get in. it it’s hard to make it through training. It’s not Navy Seal training let clear that up. I mean its toughest thing the Coast Guard got.
Mario- That’s not Navy Seal training, because the Coast Guard a couple guys past Seal School. There’s a couple Coast Guard Seals out there now. It’s certainly the toughest non-combat training for sure I think. And for different reasons and there’s a lot there you know some of these sixteen seventeen or maybe not even eighteen weeks school in North Carolina. And I don’t know that I’d make it through today. I mean I went to school, I got the job, I did the job, then I worked the school and I think it’s probably harder now and I feel like I barely made it through. Like I you know I don’t know that’s true enough but what it feels like. It feels like you barely make it you through. You know I think everyone thinks they graduated by the skin of their teeth.
Eric- I was going to say probably a purpose to make it feel like you just barely made it.
Mario- Yeah I don’t know. But it was humbling in that was it was decent training and then you go out there and do the job and learn what it really is. And it’s a bit different to training. And you know the job is what we call you just thirty days of boredom followed by thirty Seconds of Panic. And there’s a lot of waiting around, you know a lot of you know flying around you know turning what we call turning fuel in noise. Most of our cases, I mean nine out of ten. Nine out of ten times it seems like when the aircraft takes off we land having made no difference in anyone’s life whatsoever, because you don’t find anything.
Or it was a real thing to find or you know whatever the case is and so and you know a lot of the work is just medical evacuations. you know you do all this rescue swimmer training and you got to pull three angry guys out of the water in thirty minutes and it’s a real hassle to pass that final test and then your first twenty rescues or you go down to a boat and walk around. And so you’re just using your empty skills to package up a patient and you know you’re pretty much to hauling him back to the beach you know to a hospital. So but then every now and then it’s a really hairy rescue and big water and waves and then you find out what kind of shape you’re in. Always feel like I should swim more.
Eric- Right I should have trained more. Talk about the movie.
Mario- Which movie?
Eric- The Guardian.
Mario- It was it was not entirely embarrassing.
Eric- It could have been.
Mario- It could have been embarrassing but it wasn’t. It was if haven’t seen it it’s one of those when you can’t figure out what else to watch you should watch it.
Eric- Yeah I saw it like ten years ago, I don’t remember it much. You know yeah I think it was context.
Mario- All the rescue people asking me if it was real. All the rescues that they showed the movie were realistic. What was unrealistic was all four or five happen to the same guy within three months. More like epic once in a lifetime rescues you know. The other thing that was unreal was the operation center had like seven people in it live feeds from that life feeds from the rescue. The operation center is a phone, there’s three televisions on the wall all two of football scores on and the other one’s you know the calendar. You know and there’s one guy in there you know right like a team. They sort of mix the idea of the operations center and the rescue center. It was so it was kind of—they had to tell a story but that was unrealistic. Anyway and the training in short was not realistic because there weren’t enough grown men crying. You know didn’t happen enough.
Eric- That might have been more compelling actually you know.
Mario- Yeah yeah there’s there are some B. Roll seems that they filmed of the actual training that the interjected. So when you see the kid throwing up because he’s exhausted that that’s actually from the school.
Eric- Wow OK. That’s very cool.
Eric– So is the the Kevin Costner character bit literally based on you or is not?
Mario- I think you know I think it was complete fiction.
Mario- The guy wrote the guy wrote the script didn’t know any of us. I don’t think you talk to anybody. You got to say you know you seem to know anything the guy that wrote the scripts. Costner based his actions on and I know because I watched him do it. He based most it is character on a guy named Bobby Watson.
Mario- Who was like you know he was older and in better shape than all of us hose you know and quite a legend. He spent a lot of time talking to Bobby and then he took on Bobby’s mannerisms. Bobby had like three broken fingers and in the movie if you watch it Kevin Costner’s right hand always kind of crooked.
Eric- Yeah that’s it.
Mario- Right he does that kind of stuff. He was he was playing Bobby’s what he was doing. I know he was.
Eric- That’s pretty cool though.
Mario- Yeah, Mike. The guy that was me was the guy you never saw it was in the back sewing stuff.
Eric- Sewing things together?
Eric- Are you in the film at all anywhere?
Mario- Not at all, not even for a second. My involvement was in the before—-my only involvement was before they decided to do the movie they came on a research thing in North Carolina and for two days I walked around with Kevin Costner and answered questions when he wasn’t talking to Bobby.
Mario- You know just they walked around the base for a couple days and ask questions and saw the school. And So I was you know somewhere deep in our cover got a picture of me and Kevin and Ashton Kutcher and the director were staying there. That was it and then they came to film it and you know that was it.
Eric- At least they spent a couple days walking around and trying to get a feel for it you know.
Mario- They spent a lot of time. They spent some time in the pool and you know and in the movie Bobby Watson was in the movie. Like he’s in the movie and there’s like three instructors on the pool deck as actors in the movie. So that that’s to the guys that were telling them this is real, this is not real whatever.
Eric– I mean that makes a huge difference right? I mean if you’ve got somebody who really knows what going on you knows that you’re already you know make or break something.
Mario- So I want to know about pool barriers because I know you guys have been making fencing for years.
Mario- And I’m kind of curious as to what’s been the most effective. I mean some places require double barriers or you know three saw three sides and you can’t you can’t use the house as a barrier if it’s got a door things like that. But I just want to— Because you guys you make primarily pool fencing right? Do you make service barriers like nets are in there, you guys get into that at all?
Eric- So we exclusively make you know the mesh pools city fences. And we find those to be the most effective more than the nets, not because there’s anything wrong with the nets.
The problem, that’s just people, like most things right. The nets are hard to get on and off. So you know if you take an ad off and you think you know might go back in the pool at some point you’re not going to put it back on. And likewise you know if you’ve gotten that on there’s a good chance you know you don’t feel like taking it off and getting in the pool. So the main issue with nets isn’t the net it’s you know human beings. So the fence if you open it up it’s got a gate you walk through it closes behind you. You can leave it up all the time. You know you can take it down for a party if you had to, but you know you have to worry about it completely disassembling it to….
Mario- I like the nets for closing the pool down for the winter.
Eric- Yes you know or a pool cover. I guess tats something else you know or the winter covers. But yeah you know you know there’s a protection you know with a pool fence I think is your best most effective bet. You know with a self-closing self-latching gate with an alarm on it if you really want to go you know full bore. I think that’s probably the safest thing you know. so it’s funny you use the word effective I thought about you know kind of the scope of what you’ve done and it seems like you’ve done a good job of figuring out the way that you can contribute most effectively in the world that yore in. I wrote a book a long time ago called The Effect Of Executive, that’s kind of the gist of it is that you know in any given moment you decide all right what can I do to contribute the most to the situation at any given time. I was thinking about your—the online classes you came up with the Coast Guard for the aviation school right. I mean that seems to be an ongoing thing you were into the classes when you wrote the article. You know.
Mario- Well I think listen I think—- I stumbled into drowning prevention. I was not a drowning prevention guy. We met—-you and I met I think at the 2012 NDPA meeting in San Diego.
Mario- Yeah and but I got asked to speak because I wrote that article. That’s why I got asked to speak. I wrote an article and someone contacted me and I was in the Coast Guard. And I’m like cool dope you know I’ll get to go speak. And I was in the Coast Guard at the time, I came in uniform and spoke. And really the next thing I knew—I think I was on the board of the Joshua Collingsworth First Memorial Foundation the second night I was there and they move me to the board. And then because I gave that talk they’re on risk analysis you know what can you know. That’s the board I’m still on.
Eric- That’s cool.
Mario- And one of the reasons that’s the one board—- I’ve been on several and that’s the one that I’m attached to because I had to pick one. I’m not because I’m not an early education guy. I’m not a childhood education guy and I’m not really a drowning prevention guy. I’m a response guy you know my expertise is in what you do when you didn’t prevent drowning. And so you know boating safety is one thing but my expertise isn’t in boating. My expertise is after you stop boating safely and now you need rescue.
Eric- Right right.
Mario- So my boating safety advice is about all the mistakes I saw made that turned safe boating into not safe boating. So it’s more it’s more philosophy. but I think picking one thing—So with driving prevention you know if I have a goal it is to teach everyone I can that it’s complex, it’s—-and if all I do for the rest of my life is get more people to realize that drowning is silent that you should look, that if you’re not watching the water you’re not watching. You know you’re not there if you’re not looking at the water. If I can just get that across that’s it you know. And so that’s my side hustle, my side hobby is that. That’s why every chance I get I can get the article translated I do and put it up and share it in that country so we can move it around with J.C. M.-F. Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation you know which is a plug Joshtheotter.org. I had to pick one because you get scattered you end up being no good in any of them. So I just wanted to focus on one and quite frankly that that’s the one to me that I think has to the greatest chance for long term impact. it’s getting to you get to a—- if I can get to a two year old, then all the things you and I talk about drowning prevention will be the things that sixteen year old will say like duh like we’ve always known that .
Mario- Yeah that’s what we’re going for. You know I’m going for my daughter in the car. God she was eight calling me out for seatbelts.
Mario-And I remember I went to—-I stopped I don’t remember where it was but I stopped and I bought beer. I think it was like a 4th of July party and I bought beer.
Mario- Brought into the car and she said “You can’t do that you’re driving”. I’m just carrying it honey. I’m just carrying it. You know yeah but you know very serious about it. So drunk driving and seatbelts were handled. You know kids you know young kids just really certainly she had known it. So making a generational change in the way people think. So that my article doesn’t go viral because it’s not news to anybody.
Eric- We all know.
Mario-And so I think that’s what I can get you’re trying to do and that’s why that’s my board you know. I’ll leave when they kick me off because I’ve been there too long I guess.
Eric- I mean as far as boating safety you wrote an article once and there was a line in it that stuck with me and I hope it was you. But what is said was that “Open water tragedies, boating tragedies happen before you leave the dock. That if something goes wrong with a boat the error was made you know at home or on the way there or at the dock in preparation”.
Mario-I haven’t seen it with the exception of some medevacs.
Mario-A guy undiagnosed appendicitis and it flares up when he’s out to sea, that’s just what you get. A boat worker falls and breaks an arm that’s just what you get. That’s the hazard a job. But every star case I’ve been on, every one I’ve studied, the error chain starts before the line is thrown off invariably. Like I’ve never seen one.
Mario-And I get are you and that’s a philosophy okay, it’s fair enough. Because well what about a collision somebody hits me it wasn’t my fault? Okay yeah I think you have a training problem with lookout. you know I don’t think you’ve carefully evaluated your safe speed and what you’re doing out there if you’re in a place where on the open water you can get hit and have no option. But that’s semantics. So I suppose you know that’s it you know and if you’re in a crowded waterway and someone bumps into you and knocks a hole in your boat, okay alright fair enough that wasn’t caused before leaving the dock. But those aren’t usually the—those aren’t used—-those are the ones that end up costing you money. They’re really the ones where people—- I’m talking about the people that I fly out to look for and never find. You know it happens, you want to drop your jaw and I’ve got a Google Alert for the phrase Coast Guard suspend search.
Eric- Oh wow.
Mario- Daily. Every day, every day all over the country all over the world every day someone is given up on a search every day. Twice a day, you know four times a day they give up and you don’t hear about it. but that person is unaccounted for and in you know the Coast Guard stats and I don’t think I said this to you in 2012 at the N.D.P.A conference that the dip in voting statistics were voting dramatically safer in the late 80’s was because they changed the way they counted the numbers. Right they count people that they didn’t find they called dead. And there was we don’t know if they’re dead. They could be dead, they could be fishing, and maybe they ran away. I don’t know. And they so they called a person’s unaccounted for and it changed the statistics, but there were in a five year period there were 3,687 persons unaccounted for.
Mario-You know it happens every day—-right now. This morning someone flew a final search on the East Coast and gave up on a boat guaranteed, happens every you know its daily. And so that’s what happens, they give up and then you don’t hear about it because the guys from you know or the you know it’s in the other city and it doesn’t make national news. A few kids go missing off of Fort Lauderdale, it makes national news because it’s two young kids. And its tragic and it captures the nation’s attention and it happened seven times that week to other people, you didn’t hear about them.
Mario-You know and so that was my focus for boating safety was listen these are mistakes that made before leaving the dock. The mistake there and I’m unafraid to say it was letting fourteen year olds go off shore.
Eric- Yeah I thought the same thing actually.
Mario-You know the father said they were—He said on the news they weren’t they weren’t, they weren’t going to go off shore but the 911 call said they went off shore. It was they weren’t allowed to go off shore and it’s not that kids can’t boat you know. I get this “I boated my whole life”, that’s great. And as long as everything goes fine a fifteen year old is equipped.
Mario-But a 15 year old is not equipped to get his boat flipped and be upside down seven miles offshore. He’s not equipped. He’s got no chance you know he’s too young. And it’s the same reason I don’t like sixteen year olds as lifeguards. And I know they do in the Red Cross says they can do it. But I don’t think a sixteen year old should be a lifeguard by themselves, like you can you can a sixteen year old can become a Red Cross certified lifeguard and they can go get a job at a local park with a pool and be the only life guard on duty. And it doesn’t—I don’t think they can’t do the job. what I think is they should not—-when you let your sixteen year old be a lifeguard by themselves at a pool you’re saying I’m OK if he ends up doing C.P.R. on a four year old and thinking the child’s death is his fault. And I don’t think that’s fair to do to a sixteen year old. I don’t think they can handle it I don’t think they should have to handle it.
Mario-I don’t want my sixteen year old going “Did I kill that child?” it’s too young to put that responsibility on them. Not that they can’t go do a save and so I’m all for they can be sixteen year old life guards but they’re not going to by themselves. That’s what I think.
Eric- A life guard’s job is literally to you know save someone in a life or death situation. You know that doesn’t sound like a sixteen-year-old’s job.
Mario-You know and weather whether it’s that it doesn’t matter about fault, it’s going to feel like their fault.
Eric- Of course absolutely.
Mario-You know it could have been the kid could have had as seizure. [38:57] [inaudible] cars database the C.D.C. database on drowning’s, you know no one’s ever drowned ever, ever. There’s no history of anyone ever drowning because they had a seizure.
Mario-Well because you can’t tell they had a seizure when they’re recovered there’s no evidence of a seizure.
Mario-There’s no blunt trauma to say they seized.
Mario– So that it’s never counted. And if you have a seizure and you haven’t had them before the doctor won’t let you drive for six months. And he says you shouldn’t go swimming. You know somebody had their first seizure while swimming and they drowned but it doesn’t get counted that way. anyway so that I say that to say this that you know it cannot be the lifeguards fault that the person drowned and didn’t recover or that they missed it because they’re sixteen and they’re by themselves and then—-And whether that— It’s going to feel like their fault. They’re going to spend a massive amount of time with that emotional trauma and I think that’s too young to put on a sixteen-year-old. So there, Red Cross, that’s what I think.
Eric- You know you talk about stats, that the stat that I wish we could change or adjust is how we count a drowning fatality or we don’t count a drowning fatality 12 months later or 6 months later or 3 months later. you know two years later right where you know drown they survived they you know had a bunch of damage and then they passed away a year later or two years later and you know that doesn’t get count , you know it’s not part of the public record. I think we’re severely underestimating the number of people that died because you know they die of a respiratory complication you know 8 months later.
Mario– In some states if they die three hours later it’s not because of drowning. So I don’t want to answer is you know it’s a federalized database you know it’s federal law—-you know what the answer is.
Eric- We have the– we have the CDC already, I feel like that’s…
Mario– But those reports come in from different state agencies and their criteria for reporting a certain thing is different.
Mario-You know for sure someone has died from drowning and got recorded in something else. That happens all the time. And so if you look for a drowning death it’s not going to show up even though it was, like you said because it happened a month later or even a week later you know. They’ll say they died of heart failure or you know.
Eric- A five-year-old.
Eric- So tell me about life saving systems. What you guys do there?
Mario– We’ve been doing it for 38 years. I didn’t expect this job at all, this was surprised job. I was minding my own—-I just gone down to Fort Pierce to teach a boating professional mariners what’s called a S.T.C.W. The professional mariners boating safety course a week long course and I was taking a break in New Smyrna Beach and my phone rang and it was this guy that owns this place Sam Maze.
And I knew who he was but I’d never met him. And he said—I asked him—-I thought he had like three ex rescue guys in here. And he’s now got 35 people and none of them ever been in a helicopter with me. I can’t leave. I can’t —–I want to talk to a customer. And he asked if I come here so you know he can take vacation you know which is where he is right now. But they’ve made—-Sam’s made most of the helicopter rescue gear and a lot of the boating rescue gear that the Coast Guard uses and Navy maybe uses in the world. And so every rescue every helicopter rescue basket you’ve ever seen on the news was made here.
Eric- Oh wow.
Mario– And it’s a true manufactured by 30,000 square feet and it’s we’ll be getting raw metal and material in one end they cut it up cut it bend it shape it weld it and turn it into rescue baskets and ladders on the other side.
Eric- Sounds like my place.
Mario-It’s a pretty decent place. You know small, it’s a real niche market there’s not a lot of helicopter rescue gear out there.
Mario-But I think it’s certainly the best and I like Sam’s attitude. You got to pry me out here with a crowbar. He’s like guys the rescuer should have the best gear possible and if we can’t make it they should get it somewhere else. And so it’s hard not to like working for a guy like that.
Eric- Sure so what do you do there?
Mario-I’m the general manager. I came —-they wanted me to talk to customers and then three months later they asked me to do so much stuff I’m like OK that’s five years’ worth of work which I do first. And that was 2 ½ years ago and now I’m the general manager. So what I do product development, I still talk to customers a lot, But manufacturing process and you know what’s a good piece of gear what’s not. You know what are we making next what are we not going to make anymore, you know what’s dangerous what’s not what’s not dangerous. So and now my big project for this year is product context. Is we’ve made these things for a reason and we’re starting to notice that the rescuers don’t know what they’re for. Like why is it that way, they don’t know, why hey why is that buckle over there or why is that why is it shaped this way. You know so just getting across wife’s design the way it is so they can make better decisions about how they use it. You know I’m seeing pictures of our gear all the time being used in a way that we didn’t intend for it to be used. I guess not what it’s designed for right and so but that’s we have a responsibility there I think to tell the story of each product and why it’s made the way it is and why—–this was the intent.
Mario-Because you can’t tell a rescue guy what to do like he knows. So we’re just going tell them what we meant and then they can then they can make a decision.
Eric- They can choose to do that or not I guess.
Eric- So what are there besides this and the counting those local drowning? What other kind of side things you have going on?
Mario-I’m trying to do less and less side things, but my latest side I wrote for Soundings Magazine this Weekly Safety Blog and then I ran out of stuff to say. I felt like I was teaching a class and I was out of stuff to say and so I just said any questions. You know I just we just turned it into a Q And A thing, like Ask Mario. I’ve told you everything I think you should know and until you get good at this I got nothing. You know.
Mario-So now they’re asking questions and so now I’m doing a weekly question and answer thing on that. And I did an online boating safety course for Boaters University which is pretty much five hours of me dropping a lifetime of those mistakes made at the dock. You know this is what gets you a bit out there, this is how not to get bit out there based on what I’ve seen. And so it’s not a typical boating safety course. I’m not going to narrows or that you should have a sharp lookout. It’s going to be on float plans and checklists and maintenance and training. And every life raft has a boarding ramp on it, a ladder that hangs down from the raft to help you climb into it, if you step on it you’re never get in the raft. You know and so those kinds of trade secrets if you will. The things I know that you wouldn’t know that like the day end of the flare that pops off orange smoke is really good at night because of what——they’re looking for infrared. It’s not orange smoke, it’s really hot orange smoke and when they look for infrared they see it for a long. So things like that and that course is at BoatersUniversity.com. And it just got released like a week ago. It was a complete hassle to make.
Eric- How long did it take?
Mario- It took forever. Like three days of filming and then and then so much work before and after that. But I didn’t—I was —– I always wanted to do it. I wanted to do it on my website but I got this pesky day job that I love and I didn’t want to do a bad job of it. So I was back and forth, I just teamed up with these guys because they seem to put on a quality course and so that just released and people are buying it and good.
Eric– How much is it?
Mario- It’s a lot of money. It’s $350 which I’m proud of. I don’t—-you can take a boating safety course for $35 but I can assure you you’re not going to hear any of this stuff that I’m telling you. You know I think I think just by all means take the boating safety course. That’s the stuff I’m not —- this is not—it’s not basic.
Mario– It is next level I think and so it’s there for $350, but if you email me at Mario@Vittone.com, Mario@MarioVittone.com I’ll send you discount code for 20% off.
Eric- Seventy bucks it could be that.
Eric- Yeah occasionally.
Mario-Check out the brain on Eric.
Eric- Yeah look at that. It’s like I look at financial statements and PNL’s all day it’s weird right. So is there anything that you want people to know before we get back to work?
Mario-Safety around the water is like everything, more complex than you think it is. It’s more complex, it requires effort, it requires thought, and it requires some of your some of your time. and so the water is going to be blue and clear and it’s got to be fun and I’m not trying to take the fun out of your water activities, but if you don’t spend some time some time seriously considering how you’re going to be safe today you’re not going to be safe today.
Eric- Agree with that 100%. Thanks Mario I really appreciate doing this.
Mario– You’ve bet no problem at all.
Eric– And thanks for the article and everything else you’ve done. You know I think your article is kind of like pool fence in that it’s hard to gauge you know how many people you’ve probably affectively saved that you know but there’s no guarantee it is hard to have had an impact for sure.
Mario– Well thanks.
Eric– Have a good one Mario. Alright bye.