Humans are land mammals. As land mammals, humans, particularly young ones, are not well-suited to the aquatic environment, and yet a great deal of our warm weather recreation revolves around the water.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than 3,500 fatal drownings take place each year in the United States with more than 50 percent of the victims children under the age of 14. There is a need for prudence and preparation before taking to the water this summer. Here are a few ideas on how you and your family and friends can safely enjoy the water this year.
Learn to swim: Swimming lessons are widely available at public pools, through parks and recreation departments and country and athletic clubs. Lessons are available for all ages and ability levels from toddler through adult. The CDC says, “Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children, particularly children aged 1 to 4 years.” Choose a program and instructor certified by a nationally recognized organization like the American Red Cross, Jeff Ellis & Associates, the YMCA or USA Swimming.
Use a personal flotation device (PFD): When on the water in any kind of craft, everyone should wear an appropriately sized Coast Guard approved PFD. Commonly called a life jacket, most states have boating laws requiring PFDs for each individual in a boat. PFDs for non-swimmers and younger children at the beach, lake or pool are a great idea as well. Noodles or inflatable toys are never an adequate substitute for a PFD.
Close supervision: Areas without a lifeguard require adult supervision. A rope and a ring buoy are great additions to the equipment needed for the task. Areas with a lifeguard still require supervision. “Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water (such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets, toilets), and even in the presence of lifeguards,” according to the U. S. Coast Guard web site. The adult supervising should avoid other activities such as reading or talking on the phone while in charge.
Barriers: If you own a home pool, have fencing in place to prevent access as recommended by the U.S. Product Safety Commission. This will prevent small children from wandering into the pool by accident.
Location: Be aware of the type of hazard and who may be at risk in the different water recreation areas that you frequent. People of different ages drown in different locations. Most children ages 1 to 4 drown in home swimming pools, according to the CDC. The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans, increases with age. Fifty-seven percent of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings.
Alcohol use: Just like drinking and driving, drinking and swimming or drinking and boating is a recipe for disaster. “Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of ED visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat,” according to the CDC.
Water recreation and summer go together. The opportunity to cool off and enjoy the fun that time near water offers is a summer staple. An understanding of the potential hazards the water offers and a bit of preparation will help to ensure an enjoyable outing to your family’s favorite water venue.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been married for 26 years and has three children.