Water Safety for Summer Fun
by Faith Overton
As summer approaches, it is important to refresh on basic water safety to maximum fun in the sun. As an experienced lifeguard, swim instructor, and water safety instructor, I’ve worked in many settings and seen many avoidable accidents. It is too easy to think you are prepared around water, but circumstances can change in an instant. Whether considering the safety of yourself, your children or the safety of others, think about water safety as it relates to two zones: household water and recreational water.
Household: Pets, Bathrooms & Landscapes
Being at home can create in a false sense security. It is easy to overlook potential dangers, especially where infants and very young children are concerned.
If you have pets, make sure water bowls are in a visible location for easy monitoring. Ensure that children aren’t hidden from view if they investigate (although this should be discouraged) and that early walkers will not trip over the bowl. A time-release dispenser is a good choice because it provides a shallow water source. If possible, use a raised water bowl and use a towel or carpet to catch drips from messy drinkers to prevent slippery floors.
Toilets should have lids that can be closed. Consider a locking mechanism if you have young, curious children. Keep bathroom doors closed when not in use to prevent covert exploration by young children. It’s better to be overly prepared, as some kids make regrettable choices with toilets. While some families wind up dealing with a messy situation (which may turn into a funny story over time), other families may wind up with an unexpected tragedy.
Bathtub safety should not be overlooked. Children should always be monitored while in the bath. Fill the tub to an appropriate level based on size and age. Again, beware of developing a false sense of security. It only takes a second for things to go wrong.
If you live somewhere with pond, creek, or other water access, or if you have a pool, make sure there is signage explaining appropriate use. Consider fencing to discourage use without your knowledge. To protect yourself from potential legal issues, don’t leave your property if you know people are going to use your water source!
Some properties may not have an obvious water source but don’t exclude ditches from water safety preparedness. Following a storm or several rainy days, some ditches may take a week or more to dry out. Please be diligent and aware of your surroundings.
Recreational: Beaches, Water Parks & Pools
If you head to the beach this summer, don’t forget your water shoes. You might think it’s crazy to wear footwear in the ocean, but our beaches aren’t as safe as it once. Trash is everywhere at the beach, and you can avoid injury by being prepared. Some of my more tragic saves as a lifeguard involve a kid or adult not wearing footwear. By protecting your feet, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding cuts and making sure you can kick to safety if need be.
Children and inexperienced swimmers should be monitored at all times, even when wading and playing in shallow water. An unexpected wave can easily knock a person over and cause disorientation. Tide pools often have calmer water, but unexpected deep sections, so don’t assume children will be safe.
When swimming or wading, don’t allow yourself to become too separated from a group or too far from the shore. The tide is unforgiving and can change in an instant. Even experienced swimmers can become trapped in riptides. If you do find yourself caught in a riptide, don’t fight against it! Instead, try to swim parallel to the shore until you are no longer being pulled out, then swim back to shore. Watch the lifeguard stands and other signs alerting of any dangerous weather conditions.
Never dive or jump into water into water if you can’t see the bottom. Some water is deceptively shallow, and murky water can hide any number of hazards.
At water parks and pools, clear water and lifeguards can appear deceptively safe, but it can be all too easy for someone in trouble to go unnoticed due the sheer volume of people and chaotic environment. If your children are swimming, be cautious about getting so involved on your phone that you would not realize if you child has not resurfaced after a jump or is getting into deeper water than they can safely handle. Parents, please don’t assume that simply because a lifeguard is on duty that you are off duty.
Whether swimming or boating, don’t forget to check that life jackets have been properly rated for lifesaving purposes. Many pool toys appear as though they are safety devices but in truth they aren’t inspected or approved. They are toys or flotation devices which still require adult monitoring.
Private swimming pools and backyard kiddie pools require careful monitoring as well. For shallow kiddie pools, follow the same safety precautions you would with a bathtub. During social events around water, don’t assume someone else is monitoring the pool.
Enjoy the water this summer. Cool off, have fun, and be safe.