Warm weather and water activities are a natural combination, but also a potentially dangerous one. Though swimming may be an integral part of summer fun, the same water you’re enjoying so much can lead to tragic drownings.
In observance of National Water Safety Month, here are the top five ways you can make the most of summer water activities without putting your life – or your children’s – at risk. Following these tips will help you stay safe in any water situation, whether you’re cooling off in the pool, surfing the waves in the ocean, sailing along on a boat (big or small), kayaking or canoeing in a local lake, or tubing and sliding your way through a waterpark.
1. Know how to swim
Just 35 percent of Americans can swim, and only two to seven percent swim well, CNN reported. Non-swimmers of any age could benefit from lessons. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The best way to prevent drowning isn’t to avoid water, but instead to know how to handle it. Both adults and children should know how to swim, and can take lessons to learn at any age at local pool clubs, swimming academies, community recreation centers, and YMCA facilities. Some facilities with indoor pools offer swimming lessons year-round, so you don’t have to wait until it gets warm. Begin teaching children how to swim as early as possible. While private, one-on-one swimming lessons can be pricy, lessons in a class can cost as little as a few dollars per session. The peace of mind of knowing that your child won’t be helpless in the water makes this money well spent.
Water safety isn’t just about knowing how to swim, but also knowing the basics of safe swimming. Teach your children a swimming routine that they must follow before getting into the pool, advised BuzzFeed, citing recommendations from the U.S. Swim School Association. This process might include putting on a swimsuit (or, for the youngest swimmers, a swim diaper) and sunscreen – but most importantly, it means your child won’t impulsively jump into the pool without your knowledge or supervision.
When your child is old enough, have him or her take the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP)’s Safe Swimmer Pledge. Talk about what safe swimming entails – things like never swimming alone and obeying pool rules – and why it matters.
2. Know how not to swim
When stuck in a rip current, the first instinct is to try to swim back to shore. Instead, swim with the current, parallel to the shore, until you escape its pull. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Swimming in a calm pool is different from swimming in a rough ocean with strong undertows. A dip in the shallow end is different from a dive in the deep end. Knowing how to swim is an important start toward water safety, but make sure your child also understands how to swim in different situations, like if he or she encounters a rip current in the ocean. It’s also essential that all participants in water activities – no matter how old – use the right safety equipment. On boats and in kayaks and canoes, both children and adults should wear life jackets at all times.
Some of the don’ts of swimming might surprise you. For example, you know water wings, those flotation devices that fit on the arms of small children? Experts say you should never use these or other floatation devices when teaching children to swim, BuzzFeed reported. Rafts and other flotation devices may make for fun toys, but having them to rely on doesn’t help children learn to swim on their own – an essential skill in case they ever fall into the water accidentally.
Likewise, don’t have your kids use goggles constantly in the water. Young swimmers need to become comfortable opening their eyes underwater so that an unintentional fall into a pool or lake won’t leave them fumbling blindly for a way out.
3. Supervise at all times
Watching your kids in the water is good, but joining them is even better. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
It doesn’t take long to drown. In minutes, even seconds, a swimmer can inhale water and begin to experience respiratory distress. Within seconds of oxygen deprivation, organ damage begins. The single best way to prevent your child from drowning is to supervise water activities at all times. Active supervision is best – instead of sitting poolside, unprepared to hop in the water if need be, put your swimsuit on, too, and join the kids. Not only will they be safer, but it will be more fun for the whole family.
Even if the pool, beach, or waterpark has a lifeguard on duty, don’t assume that you don’t need to watch out for your kid’s safety. Lifeguards at these popular places have a lot of people to watch over, but they still have just two eyes with which to scan the pool or ocean. Keep in mind, too, that small children wearing blue or green bathing suits can easily blend in with the water and the lining of a pool when viewed from above. Lifeguards can’t possibly watch every person at every moment – and your child needs constant supervision in the water.
While we’re at it, adults, limit alcohol use if you or the kids will be swimming. For one thing, you need to be vigilant in watching the children and quick to react in an emergency, so alcohol impairment is less than ideal. Also, while many drowning victims are children, not all are – even adults can drown, and overindulging in alcohol can increase this risk.
4. Prepare for the worst-case scenario
Accidents happen. Know what to do in case of a drowning. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
Take a first aid course and get CPR certified. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use the skills you learn – but if you do, you’ll be glad you took the time to learn first aid.
If a child goes missing during any kind of water activity, always check the water first. Any delay in helping a drowning victim – even if it’s a matter of seconds – could mean the difference between life and death. If you find an unresponsive swimmer in the water, always pull him or her out right away, Web MD advises. If other people are around, have them call 911. Check to see if the swimmer is breathing, and if not, begin rescue breathing, followed by chest compressions, right away. Keep doing this until first responders arrive. Even if you feel like panicking, try to stay calm and focus on applying the skills you learned in your first aid training.
A drowning accident is serious. Even if you are able to resuscitate the victim on your own, it’s still important to get medical care. What might seem like just a scary close call could have serious health effects. There’s also a phenomenon known as secondary drowning, in which victims inhale water but may not experience the life-threatening respiratory distress of drowning until hours, even days, later. Don’t assume after a drowning experience that everything is fine – make sure it is by getting to a doctor immediately.
5. Secure pool areas
A tall, sturdy fence with self-latching gates can prevent unauthorized pool access. No matter how good a swimmer your child is, he or she should never swim alone. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
If you personally own a pool or hot tub, take steps to prevent tragedies before they happen. Secure all pool areas by surrounding them completely with a fence – at least four to five feet high, according to the American Red Cross – with self-closing gates.
Teach your child the importance of never swimming alone or without adult supervision. Remove temptation to enter the pool area unsupervised by putting away any floats or pool toys when you’re done using the pool for the day. Use safety covers to prevent access to the pool and pool alarms that let you know if someone is in the pool without your knowledge and permission. Remove any ladders, furniture, or other structures that kids could use to climb into the pool. Children are often drawn to pools, so do everything that you can to keep your child away from the water when you’re not there to supervise swimming.
Bonus Tip: Recognize the unexpected, everyday drowning dangers
It doesn’t take long for an unsupervised child to drown in a bathtub – and this danger lingers year-round. To prevent drowning dangers around the home, supervision is key. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
When water is a central part of an activity, as it is in a swimming pool, the ocean, a waterpark, or on a boat, you’re aware of the inherent drowning risk. However, dozens of everyday situations that aren’t centered on water can pose a year-round danger, particularly for children. Babies can drown just one inch of water, Safe Kids Worldwide reported. This means that even something as seemingly harmless as a beach pail or an emptied kiddie pool can put a crawling baby at risk, it if happens to be left upright to collect even a miniscule amount of rainwater.
Make your home safer all year by always emptying and putting away – somewhere out of the reach of children and, ideally, upside-down – any kind of container that could accumulate water.
If you have young children in the home, be cautious even around bath tubs and toilets. Keep toilet lids closed when not in use, and supervise bath times carefully. More than half of bath-related drowning incidents happen when children were temporarily left with no adult supervision, either alone or with only another child as company, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found. Remember that drowning can happen in seconds. In the time it takes to send a test message or check an oven timer, you could lose your child forever.