This article is part of the #STCPreventionMatters campaign from the University of Maryland Medical Center. For more information about the campaign and the Center for Injury Prevention and Policy, visit www.umm.edu/PreventionMatters
Nothing beats a dip in the water on a hot summer day. But summertime fun around water, whether at a pool, the beach, or even in your own home, can be dangerous, too. So how can you and your family stay safe this summer?
It’s important to recognize that a person can drown in shallow water— even if it’s just an inch or two of water at the bottom of a bathtub or kiddie pool. However, it’s important to note that most drownings aren’t dramatic events with lots of noise and splashing; they usually happen quickly and silently.
So how can we best ensure a fun and safe summer in the water?
Never leave children alone near open water. Always assign an adult to watch children carefully and without distractions while they are playing in or near water. Don’t depend on an older child or a lifeguard, and be sure to empty bathtubs or pools after use.
Knowing how to swim is an important skill for all ages. Children four years of age and older should be enrolled in swimming lessons. But remember that knowing how to swim doesn’t guarantee your safety in the water. Even the strongest swimmer can drown in certain conditions. Swimming in a lake, river or the ocean are all very different than swimming in a pool. Be sure that swim skills are appropriate for the body of water.
Don’t depend on inflatable armbands (floaties or water wings) or pool toys to keep your children safe; they aren’t designed to be personal flotation devices. Everyone on a boat should wear a life jacket. Make sure that life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved and that they are the right size for the wearer. Small children and inexperienced swimmers of all ages should wear life jackets when they’re at the water’s edge.
Make and enforce water safety rules. Children should ask permission before going in the water, listen to lifeguards, not swim alone, and no running, diving or horseplay. Teach teenagers and young adults to never drink alcohol while swimming; alcohol is involved in 50 percent of male teen drownings.
Backyard pools should have a fence that completely surrounds the pool. Pool fencing should be at least 4 feet high with a self-latching and self-closing gate, and be hard to climb (not a chain-link fence). Pool alarms and rigid pool covers can provide additional protection but can’t take the place of a good fence. Remember, home owners could be held responsible if someone uses their pool without permission and gets injured.
When at the beach, only swim in areas with lifeguards on duty. The first time you jump in the water, always go feet first. The water can be more, shallow than it appears, and there can be hidden obstacles like rocks. Diving head first into untested water can cause serious injuries, including injuries to the spinal cord.
Pay close attention to the beach warning flags. They can warn you of hazards beyond the shoreline. Also, watch for signs warning of rip currents or other dangerous conditions. A rip current is a powerful current that flows away from the shore. Watch for areas on the beach where waves are not breaking or where foamy or sandy water is heading back out to sea. If you get caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t try to fight it. Instead, stay afloat and yell for help. You can also swim parallel to the shoreline until you are free of the current, then swim back in towards the beach. If you can’t swim out of the current, float or tread water until you are out of the current, then swim back to safety.
By following these tips, you can make sure that you and your family can enjoy water fun for many summers to come!
Christian Wright, MD, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a pediatric emergency physician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.