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Summer 101: Family water safety

Splish and splash safely all summer long


There’s nothing like cooling off from summer’s heat in a swimming pool, lake, river or the ocean. But before you hit the water, make sure you – and your children – know how to stay safe.

“Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in the United States,” said Dr. Stefani Connel of Novant Health Family & Internal Medicine South Brunswick. “Drownings and near-drownings are, of course, the biggest safety concerns and fears around any body of water including pools, streams, lakes and creeks. It is important to educate children that all bodies of water can be dangerous.”

Children should learn to practice water safety at a young age to protect themselves from danger, and swimming lessons are recommended for all children.

“These lessons focus not only on learning to swim, but usually also have a dedicated day to water safety and life jacket importance,” Connel said. “I recommend all parents please review the basic rules of pool safety with their children every year including never swimming without an adult, never swimming during a storm, and avoidance of touching or playing with pool chemicals, as these chemicals can be extremely dangerous. “

Children can begin to participate in swimming lessons as young as 6 months old.

Other summer safety tips include:

Use age- and weight-appropriate flotation devices.

Young children, inexperienced swimmers and anyone who is boating should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

“It is important not to forget that children and adults should always wear a life jacket when on a boat or other watercrafts regardless if they can swim or not, as currents and falls that render individuals unconscious can cause drownings,” Connel noted.

But remember: Flotation devices alone aren’t enough.

Life jackets – or especially air- or foam-filled toys such as “water wings,” “noodles,” or inner tubes – shouldn’t be the sole method of swim protection for young or inexperienced swimmers.

Approximately 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States and is the second-leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4, the CDC says.

The CDC also notes that 80 percent of people who die from drowning are male, and the fatal unintentional drowning rate is significantly higher for African-Americans than whites across all age groups. The disparity is greatest for black 11- to 12-year-olds, whose drowning rate in swimming pools is 10 times that of whites.

According to the American Red Cross, swimmers who are in trouble may scream or splash, but most often they cannot or do not call out for help. Signs that people are struggling in the water include doggie paddling with no forward progress, hanging on to safety lines or back floating while arm-waving.

If you see someone struggling in the water, shout for help, throw a rescue or flotation device and call 911 if needed. Do not jump in and attempt to rescue the swimmer if you’re an untrained or weak swimmer.

“If an adult or child does experience a near-drowning, it is imperative that the individual be taken to the nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation as life-threatening symptoms can sometimes present hours after the incident has occurred and victims of near-drownings will need to be closely monitored by medical staff for several hours,” Connel said.

Secure pools and hot tubs at home, too.

Water barriers are a good drowning prevention tool, especially for young children at home.

Use barriers, safety covers and alarms to prevent young children from drowning. Remove items that provide pool access and remove all toys from the pool when not in use, as these can attract young children.

Learn CPR.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims. Seconds count, and knowing CPR can drastically improve outcomes.

Beware what’s lurking in and around the water.

Sometimes it’s not just the water that should cause you to worry. Don’t assume that water is clean. Bacteria are present in ponds, rivers and even the ocean. Do not swim if you have any open wounds, and wear sandals to prevent exposure to viruses or bacteria through the feet.

On a boat? Be wary of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Larger, gasoline-powered boats sometimes have generators that vent toward the rear of the boat, which can pose a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning to passengers on the rear swim deck or water platform. Traveling at slow speeds or idling in the water can cause carbon monoxide buildup in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge, aft deck or open areas.

Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can poison or kill quickly. The most common symptoms of poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion, according to the CDC, which recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors, keeping clear of engine exhaust vents and monitoring passengers closely.

“Like most things, education and exposure are the best preventative steps for drownings and near-drownings,” Connel said. “The goal is for children and adults to love playing in the water and enjoy the summertime to the fullest.”





Published: 7/9/2015
Updated on: 5/22/2017