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6 Ways to stay safe in the water

Swimming can fun, but it’s important to enjoy water activities safely.
4 minute read time
May 13, 2021
Hazel Team
The editorial staff at Hazel are a diverse group of writers and professionals.

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Water activities are a great way to get exercise, stay cool, and spend time with friends and family. Swimming in pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, and the ocean can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to enjoy these activities safely. Although swimming and being in water can be dangerous, if your family follows these tips, they can stay safe, healthy, and have a fantastic time.  

The facts about drowning 

Many people assume that they will hear a drowning person call for help, but the waving, splashing, and yelling that we see in movies, rarely happens in real life. A drowning person will not have enough air to call for help or enough energy to wave their arms.  A person close to the point of drowning cannot keep their mouth above water long enough to breathe properly and cannot shout. They also will not be able to perform voluntary efforts like waving and splashing. Drowning is quiet and can go unnoticed.

Drowning also can happen very quickly. It only takes 20-60 seconds for a drowner to exhaust and completely sink. About ten people die from unintentional drowning every day, and two of those deaths are children under the age of 14. Children can drown in just a few inches of water (such as bathtubs, sinks, or buckets).  Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 1-4 years. 

Seconds can make a difference. CPR can save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims. The faster you start CPR, the better the results may be. It’s a good idea to get your family trained in CPR, so you’ll all be ready if there’s ever a need. You can find free classes in your area here.

1. Take swim lessons: Swim lessons are an important layer of protection against drowning. Your entire family (adults and children) should know how to swim.  Most children are ready for swimming lessons around age four, but some children are ready to take swim lessons as early as one. You can speak with your pediatrician if you have any questions about whether your child ready for swim lessons.

You can find local swim lessons from certified swim teachers, or the Red Cross offers affordable swimming and water safety lessons. You can also check with your city government for swim lesson scholarships.

2. Know the basics of safe swimming: Help your family understand basic rules for safe swimming:

  • Get out of the water when they feel the “too’s” — too tired, too cold, too much sun, too much hard activity. It’s always okay to take a rest.
  • Be aware if water is too deep or if children are too far away from the shore or the poolside. 
  • Everyone should be familiar with the water basics. Children should know how to enter the water, get a breath, float, and move through the water. You can find videos like this one to practice some of these basic skills at home in the bathtub with your child. 

3. Wear a life vest: Wear a life jacket as directed around lakes and the ocean, even if your child knows how to swim. Less experienced swimmers should wear life jackets in and around pools as well. Each state has minimum age laws for wearing life vests of PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) on boats (Find your state’s life vest law here). If your child is beyond the legal age, you can decide if a child should wear a life jacket in situations where the law does not require it.

When choosing a life vest, check the label to make sure the vest is US coast guard approved. The label will also have a size and weight guide, so your child wears the correct size. The vest should fit snugly, but the zipper/straps should close easily. If the vest rides up to the chin, you should size it down.

Air-filled toys or foam toys (inner tubes, noodles, inflatable lounges) are not designed to keep swimmers safe. These toys should not be used as a substitute for a life vest. If you need a life vest for water activities, you can find free loaner vests from this organization

4. Don’t allow children to swim alone or unsupervised: If possible, swim where there is a lifeguard on duty. If there is no lifeguard, check for a life ring and safety equipment and designate a water watcher to keep a close eye on swimmers. The water watcher should not multi-task, read, or play with their phone. They should also remove headphones so they can hear if someone calls for help. 

Young children and inexperienced swimmers should have an adult swimmer within arm's reach. No one should swim alone, no matter how experienced they are. Teens and other older family members must swim with a friend or an adult with equal or better swim skills.

5. Stay Aware: Pay attention to water conditions. Lifeguards may post signs or colored flags on the beach to alert swimmers about water conditions. Always follow posted directions and warnings. 

In the ocean, currents can change quickly and become dangerous. Near piers, rocks, and docks, currents can be unpredictable. If it’s difficult to move, or the water is knocking you around, it’s time to head to shore. Review with your family how to spot the signs of rip currents and how to respond safely.

Signs of Rip Currents

  • Dark deep water 
  • Sandy or foamy water with debris floating in it
  • Variations in wave patterns or areas of calm water within the surf
  • Feeling yourself being pulled out toward the ocean

How to Respond

  • Don’t panic and or fight the current. Even the strongest swimmer will become exhausted if they swim against the current. 
  • Don’t try to swim toward shore against the current, instead swim parallel to the shoreline and head back to the beach once you are safely out of the current.
  • Call for help.

6. Play smart: Practicing safe behaviors and putting a stop to unsafe play is key to water safety. Set rules and coach your family about what types of water play are appropriate. Pushing, dunking, or chicken fights can be very dangerous, especially in shallow water. Encourage your family to play safely and remind them that surfaces next to the water can be very slippery. Always walk when you are near water, never run. If your child needs help in the water, be sure they know how to call for help and teach them that it is not funny to call for help as a joke. 

Teach your family to enter the water feet first unless they know that it is more than 9 feet deep. If you don’t know how deep the water is, you shouldn’t dive. Your family should never swim or play near pool drains. Suction from pool and spa drains can trap a swimmer underwater. Always check the drain when you get to the pool, and don’t swim if there are broken or missing drain covers. 

Our team will be sharing even more great summer tips throughout the season. Don’t forget to check back for our next blog on heat exhaustion. You can also read the first blog in our summer safety series: How to choose and use sunscreen.

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