As summer approaches, families head outdoors for fun ways to beat the heat. One of the most cherished summertime activities is swimming — whether in a pool, lake or beach.
But each summer, it’s important to remind ourselves of the sobering statistic that drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are a few tips to keeping your family safe in the water this summer.
1. Don’t assume your child is safe, even if they know how to swim
Accidents happen. Assuming your child is safe can only lead to surprises when they are not. This is especially important in natural bodies of water (ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans) where unpredictable currents and debris can make even the best swimmers unsafe.
2. Always have adult supervision
There should always be an adult designated to supervise children in the water. They should have their eyes on the water at all times and be free of distractions (alcohol, cell phones, etc.). For infants and toddlers, “touch supervision” is essential, meaning an adult should be within arms-length at all times when young children are in or around water.
3. Don’t count on a lifeguard
A lifeguard can offer added protection, but even lifeguards can miss drowning, especially when there are a lot of kids for them to look after. Be sure to be an extra set of eyes by supervising your own children.
4. It’s never too early to start swimming lessons
Although your child may not fully understand swimming or be safe in the water alone, swimming lessons offer an opportunity to be safe around water. Explore a list of places offering swim lessons in Massachusetts.
5. Children who can’t swim need life jackets
U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejackets are the only flotation devices acceptable to prevent drowning. Water wings, floaties, inner tubes, noodles or other foam toys cannot provide adequate protection. Lifejackets are not a replacement for adult supervision.
6. Protect your own pool from access
If you have a pool, install a four-sided pool fence with a 4-foot minimum height that completely separates the pool area from the house and yard. Consider additional barriers such as automatic door locks or alarms to prevent access or notify you if someone enters the pool area.
7. Learn CPR
In the unlikely case that something does happen, call 911 immediately and administer CPR until medical professionals arrive.
8. Educate yourself on dry and secondary drowning
Dry drowning happens when water causes a spasm in the airway. The airway then closes up and affects breathing. Secondary or delayed drowning can happen when water gets into the lungs and builds up over time. After a swim, keep an eye out for changes in your child’s behavior and call your doctor or 911 immediately if you notice the following symptoms: trouble breathing, coughing, fatigue, irritability, chest pain or vomiting.
About the blogger: Connor Hall, MD, PhD, is a second year pediatrics resident in the Boston Combined Residency Program. He swam competitively for 15 years, including four years at the University of Southern California.