Are you wondering how to keep yourself and your family safe while having fun in the water? Maybe you just finished building a backyard pool and you are trying to establish some pool rules. Maybe you are planning a family boating trip and you are nervous about bringing your young children. Below are a number of simple guidelines that will keep you out of trouble while still allowing you to enjoy your time in the water.
Always Supervise Children
Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental injury death for children and teens over 4 and the leading cause of accidental death for children 4 and under. Always watch your children even when there is a lifeguard present. Even the best lifeguards struggle from inadequate breaks, crowded pools, and fatigue.
Drowning is quiet, unlike in the movies, and happens quickly. If no one is actively watching the child, they can go under unnoticed. As a lifeguard, I rescued a number of children who were right next to their parents as they started to struggle. Make sure that you know the signs of drowning and are constantly aware of all children in the pool.
Reach or Throw, Don’t Go
Know what to do if you see someone drowning. If you are an adult helping a child, try to honestly evaluate your strength before you find yourself in this unfortunate situation. If your child is drowning in an area you can stand, you are probably safe to go in and get them. If they are in deep water or too heavy for you to pick up, you are better off staying out of the water.
People who are drowning will grab onto you to try to stay afloat, pushing you down underwater. Professional lifeguards are trained to respond and practice escaping from this situation, but many recreational swimmers will become so shocked or overwhelmed by this situation that they begin to drown themselves.
If you encounter someone drowning, you should use one of these two techniques:
Reach: Lay on the side of the pool and extend a floatation device to the victim. If you stand up while doing this, the victim could pull the object, causing you to lose your balance and fall in. Once the victim has grabbed onto the device, you can pull them towards the wall.
Throw: Throw something that floats to the victim. Once the victim has grabbed onto the device encourage them to kick or swim to the wall.
If neither of these options are sufficient, call 911.
Do Not Dive in Shallow Water
Diving in shallow water can lead to very serious injury or death. When diving from the edge of a pool, make sure it is at least 7 feet deep. If you are diving from a height or a springboard, the pool will need to be deeper. This is to prevent your head from coming into contact with the bottom of the pool, which can lead to a spinal injury.
Hire a Lifeguard for Pool Parties
If you expect to have more than a couple of people in your pool at a time, you should consider hiring a lifeguard. They learn specific techniques to monitor large numbers of people at once and are able to handle aquatic emergencies that most people would struggle with. Even if all the parents are present and watching their children, it is useful to have a person there focusing exclusively on water safety.
Always wear a Lifejacket on a Boat
Make sure that you are wearing a lifejacket in a bright color that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. In many states, there may already be a law that you or your children have to wear lifejackets while they are on a boat. Lifejackets are important even for strong swimmers. Swimmers who thrive in the pool may not be able to handle a natural water setting, and swimmers who regularly swim in natural water are still at risk if the current is too fast or the water is shallow.
Lifejackets are designed to keep your head out of the water. This prevents drowning in the case that someone becomes unconscious. This is especially important in environments where there are rocks sticking out of the water that you could hit your head on.
Mind the weather
When planning an outing on a boat, make sure that there are not any storms expected that day. If you do find yourself caught in a thunderstorm, you should get off the water immediately and seek shelter. If you cannot find shelter, you should spread out and crouch down. Lightning strikes can spread out over the surface of the ground so you should minimize your contact with the ground. You should avoid crouching near metal or another object that conducts electricity.
Similar rules apply when you are in the pool. If you see lightning or hear thunder, everyone should exit the pool and go inside. Everyone should wait until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike to reenter the water. If everyone is eager to reenter the water as soon as possible, you can keep track by listening for thunder and writing down the time whenever you hear a thunderclap.
While it is ok to swim while it is raining, you should have everyone exit the pool if you cannot see the bottom. Rain and fog can obstruct visibility, meaning that you might not notice if someone slips underwater and does not surface.
For adults and adolescents, alcohol use is reported in 70% of water recreation deaths and 25% of emergency visits for drowning. Alcohol increases your tendency to take risks and impairs your balance and coordination. In addition, loss of consciousness is significantly more deadly in aquatic environments than on land. Furthermore, the effects of alcohol are exacerbated by sun exposure and heat.
Use Your Judgement
If something seems dangerous, it probably is. As long as you are sober and alert, you probably have a good sense of danger. If you are considering doing something potentially dangerous, think of the risks. No game or trick is worth a trip to the emergency room.
Elizabeth Kunkel’s bio:
Swim Instructor in Philadelphia, PA
I am a junior at Bryn Mawr College studying political science. I have been swimming since I was 9 years old and now compete for my college swim team. I have 5 years of experience teaching lessons to all levels from toddlers to seniors and 4 years of experience as a lifeguard.