By: Lexi Gambrell MEd, ATC, LAT
Now that we are in the hottest part of the year, many children and adolescents will be looking to partake in one of America’s favorite summer activities: spending time in the water. The Hampton Roads area has a variety of bodies of water to enjoy; from the local swimming pool to the Atlantic Ocean. However, with drowning being the leading cause of unintentional death worldwide, there are some important things to consider this summer to keep kids safe in the water.
How big of a problem is this really?
According to the Center for Disease Control, from the years 2005-2014, there were approximately 10 deaths a day from drowning, that’s an average of 3,536 per year. Of those deaths, one in five was a child under the age of 14. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 1-4 years old, behind birth defects.
What increases the risk?
Factors that increase the risk of drowning include lack of swimming ability, lack of supervision, failure to wear life jackets, and seizure disorders. Alcohol use is also a factor. While not commonly an issue with children, alcohol can affect the quality of the adult supervision.
Basic Safety Tips
Some basic safety tips can keep you and your loved ones happy and healthy in all types of water:
- Know your limits:
Be honest with yourself about you and/or your child’s swimming ability, while I have mostly focused on water safety for children, if the person supervising is uncomfortable in the water, they have limited ability to save a child in trouble. If you have a child or adolescent who is not a strong swimmer, consider lessons. If not, avoid deep water and encourage the use of a properly fitting life jacket.
- Know the water:
Being familiar with the location for your water activities is ideal. How deep the water is, whether there are rocks or tree roots along the bottom, and how fast the current is can all be important to everyone’s safety. Never dive into shallow water or water that you are unsure of the depth. The temperature of the water may also be a factor, as cold water can cause hypothermia after prolonged exposure, regardless of how warm the day is. Knowing if there is a lifeguard around, and where they are located is also helpful in case of emergency.
- Provide Supervision:
No child should be swimming alone. Regardless of their swimming ability, no safety measure can replace adequate supervision. The supervising adult should be comfortable in the water and able to swim. Toys filled with air or made of foam should not be used as a substitute for inadequate swimming skills. While these toys may provide buoyancy to children, unlike life jackets, they are not regulated or designed to keep a swimmer safe.
- Know what drowning looks like:
Drowning in real life does not look like what is commonly depicted on TV shows or in movies. The victim is often unable to make any noise or create large splashes as is commonly depicted. Often drowning is silent. However, if someone in the water is indicating distress, it is wise to assume something is wrong and help them. Here is a news report illustrating what drowning looks like:
- Know what to do in an emergency:
If someone in the group is missing, the FIRST place to check is the water. If you notice someone drowning in deep water, throw them a flotation device or reach for them from a stable spot on land, to avoid them reaching for you in a panic and pulling you under with them. If the water is shallow and you have stable footing, pull them out of the water with you. If a lifeguard is present, alert them. Regardless, CALL 911, even if the victim is rescued, they will likely need medical care. Knowing CPR can also be a huge help in an emergency situation. If you don’t know CPR, the 911 dispatcher will be able to guide you.
- Life Jackets :
There is a wonderful list of guidelines from the US Coast Guard Boating Safety and Resource Center that illustrates proper fit and type of lifejacket for each activity (US Coast Guard Recommendations for Choosing the Right Life Jacket ). The most important point is that for a life jacket to work correctly it must fit and be worn properly.
Children from ages 1-4 are most likely to drown in home swimming pools. Ways of preventing this include having a fence with a gate that swings outward surrounding the pool and making sure all toys are put away so a child doesn’t attempt to retrieve them from the water.
Natural Water Safety
Most drownings in natural water (lakes, rivers and oceans) involve people age 15 and older. With older children, constant supervision may not be realistic, so the buddy system is a must. Most importantly, pay attention to any posted warnings. These are displayed for your benefit and can warn about anything from surf conditions to dangerous wildlife. Knowing what the weather is going to be like throughout the day can also help protect you and your loved ones. Rip currents are a risk at the beach in particular. Even the strongest swimmers are susceptible to their effects. If caught in a current, be sure to swim parallel to the shore until free, and then swim diagonally toward the shore.
Now that you know how to keep everyone safe in the water, go out there and make a splash!