An afternoon at the pool or beach is a great way to escape summer heat. Understanding the risks of being around water and following some basic safety rules greatly reduces your chance of injury or drowning. Follow these tips to keep you and the young swimmers in your life safe in the water.
• Learn to swim. This might seem obvious, but the best way you can stay safe around water is to know how to swim. Teach your children to swim at an early age — you can start them in classes as early as age 4. Enroll them in classes that stress proper technique and injury prevention. And if you’re the one who doesn’t know how to swim, it isn’t too late. Community facilities, such as the YMCA or YWCA, often have adult classes. Learning to swim and learning how to be safe around water is your best defense against drowning.
• Use life jackets. A Coast Guard-approved life jacket is essential for safety, especially for beginning swimmers or young children. Don’t substitute air-filled devices — such as water wings or an inflatable raft — for a life jacket. If such devices suddenly shift position or deflate, a novice swimmer will be in trouble.
• Supervise children closely. Keep an eye on your children at all times when they’re near or in the water. Be vigilant — distractions such as talking on the phone and reading a book take your attention away from the kids at play. Never let small children swim alone.
• Avoid unsupervised areas. Whenever possible, swim in an area that has a lifeguard.
• Don’t dive into the unknown. If you’re swimming in a new place, check the water depth before getting in and avoid diving. Severe neck injuries and paralysis can result from diving into water that’s too shallow. Play it safe with this rule: Never dive into an unknown body of water.
• Avoid alcohol. Stay sober in the water. Alcohol affects your balance and coordination and can impair your swimming skills. It may also alter your sense of judgment — which might lead you to do something that you wouldn’t risk otherwise.
In the backyard pool
If you’re swimming in your pool at home, remember that there’s no lifeguard around but you. Take these extra precautions for safety.
• Install a barrier. Make sure the pool area is fenced off from the house and the rest of the yard. This eliminates the chance that your child or a neighbor’s child will accidentally fall into the water in an unsupervised area. Fencing should be at least 4 feet high, and a self-closing, self-latching gate provides extra protection, as does a pool cover. If you have a door leading directly from the house to the pool area, keep it locked to prevent young children from wandering into the pool area.
• Prepare for an emergency. Have a telephone and emergency phone numbers available near the pool. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid. Have a first-aid kit on hand.
• Watch for changing weather. Be prepared to head indoors if the skies look threatening.
On the open water
If you’re venturing out to a lake, a river or the ocean, keep the following in mind when you’re swimming on the open water.
• Be in shape for what you intend to do. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, but don’t attempt more than your physical condition easily allows. Cold water, currents and other conditions on the open water require more energy than does swimming in a pool. If you’re not in shape, you might have a hard time making it back to shore. As with any activity that you’re not doing regularly, start out slowly.
• Don’t swim alone. Swim with a friend. Or, at the very least, have someone onshore keep an eye on you if you venture in unaccompanied.
• Stay within designated swimming areas. Designated swimming areas are usually marked off by ropes or buoys. You might be tempted to swim into other areas, but unseen dangers may lie just beneath the water’s surface, such as weeds that can entangle you or rocky underwater terrain.
• Don’t fight the current. If you get caught in a particularly strong current, don’t panic. Trying to swim directly toward shore won’t help. You probably won’t make any progress against the current, and you’ll just tire yourself out. Instead, swim in a line parallel to the shore. When you feel the current relax, you can swim toward shore.
• Watch for electrical storms. Before you swim, check the weather forecast. If a storm is coming, stay out of the water to avoid lightning strikes. Seek shelter, if possible.
Know that water-related tragedies happen in the blink of an eye. Assure your safety and that of your kids by swimming smartly.