Summer is here, and people are flocking to the water, whether it's a beach, lake, pool, pond, river, or backyard creek. But there's an inherent risk to swimming and other aquatic activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists drowning as one of the leading causes of death from unintentional injury. Fortunately there's not much special equipment or training required to protect loved ones. Families concerned about water safety can follow these 11 simple rules to stay out of harm's way.
Always supervise children in the water, even those who swim well. Very young children and those who are not yet strong swimmers should be under even closer supervision. That means the supervising adult should be within touching distance at all times.
Don't drink and swim. While it may seem natural to knock back a few cold ones at the beach, experts warn that alcohol and swimming should never mix. According to the CDC, use of alcohol by adolescents and adults is a factor in up to 7 out of every 10 deaths involving water recreation. The effects of alcohol are increased by exposure to sun and high heat and can lead to other health issues, such as dehydration.
Stick with Coast Guard-approved life vests, and make sure they fit well. This goes for everyone on any type of watercraft. They’re also important for young kids playing on the beach. Even if there’s no plan to go into the water, it can happen in a flash, and preparation is crucial. Water wings and inflatable vests don’t prevent drowning. For younger children, choose flotation devices with head support and a strap between the legs. They’re not particularly cheap (regularly priced at $30 at Cabela's), but why take a chance?
Dehydration is a big risk when people are active in hot weather, even while immersed in water. Swimmers may not realize they're sweating, and there's still the potential for dehydration. Keep a cooler or water bottles nearby so it's easy to chug away before, during, and after fun in the sun.
Know the warning signs of hypothermia. Even in a hot summer, there's a risk because body temperature drops faster in the water than on land. Always check the water temperature before diving in. Shivering and muscle cramps are signs that the swimmer needs to come out of the water right away. Babies are even more vulnerable and should be only in water that's at least 85 degrees.
Be aware of surroundings. Even if a dip isn't planned as part of an outing, it's possible to fall accidentally into bodies of water. Survey shorelines and riverbanks to make sure there is no loose soil or boulders, and keep a close eye on any little ones under your watch.
What might look like a lazy day on the lake or at the pool can turn dangerous if a storm blows in. Always look at the forecast before heading out, and get updates from weather apps periodically throughout the day. The National Lightning Safety Institute says pools are no longer safe if thunder sounds within 30 seconds of a flash of lightning. Swimmers should be evacuated until 30 minutes after the last thunder boom. Adhere to this rule even at the beach or on a river, as lightning can travel ahead of a storm and strike without warning.
It can be difficult to estimate water depth in oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds, and to see obstacles until it's too late. This means diving into unknown bodies of water can be extremely dangerous and lead to serious head, neck, and back injuries. Wade out carefully, instead.
Anyone who isn’t a confident swimmer should take (or retake) swimming lessons. Knowing how to swim can dramatically decrease the risk of drowning and other water-related injuries. Remember that kids who have had swimming lessons still need supervision while in the water.
No matter where you’re swimming, never swim alone and look for places with designated lifeguards. It's also a good idea to learn CPR, and have a cellphone at the ready in case of emergency.