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Summer Series: Swim Safety

Kids + Water = Summertime. It's a combination we are all too familiar with. And it's a safe bet that most of us have a lifetime of memories stored and shared of summers spent poolside, or even something as simple as playing in a backyard sprinkler with our neighborhood friends. Summer it seems, will forever be synonymous with the refreshing feel of being in the water.

While it is one of the more refreshing ways to beat the heat the Summer sun shines down on us, it also needs to be approached with a great sense of caution and safety. We spoke with our own family medicine provider, Dr. Patrick Yost concerning water safety for summer.

"We are all excited that summer is finally here. But we need to remember to be extra careful with our children around water. It only takes a few moments for something to go wrong around water," stated Yost. "So be extra careful."

According to the data provided for this article by Yost, "There are about 4,000 unintentional drowning deaths per year in the United States. One in five of these occur in children under 14, with 1-4 year olds at the highest risk."

Though death from drowning is of the greatest concern to parents, there are many other possible outcomes from injuries to children or adolescents in the water: "It is also important to keep in mind that for every one drowning deaths, five others will have received emergency care. This leaves numerous children with long-term disabilities."

The where and how of many of these injuries are also important, "Most unintentional drowning in adolescents and adults occur in natural reservoirs, with 88% not wearing a life jacket." Adults, even those who consider themselves strong swimmers are still at risk, "Alcohol is also involved in most of these cases [of drowning]," stated Dr. Yost.

What safety precautions can we take both as adults and parents? "Beyond the obvious use of life jackets, other recommendations to consider when swimming in natural bodies of water include using the buddy system, reducing alcohol intake in the adults present, and preventing swimming during rough weather conditions. Finally, the availability of individuals certified in CPR reduces the risk of death from drowning."

How do parents help their children understand water safety? What are some precautions you can take in public water parks or lakes? Some important safety rules to make sure your children are aware of when participating in swim activities, even at home:

General Water Safety:

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Swim only in areas that have a lifeguard.
  • Stay out of the water when you are very tired, very cold, or overheated.
  • Follow all swimming rules posted at the swimming area.
  • Obey the lifeguard's instruction.
  • If you can't see the bottom of the pool in the deep end or the water is cloudy, don't swim there.
  • Avoid swimming at night in unlighted areas.
  • Don't chew gum or eat while swimming, you could choke.
  • Do not push, shove, or run near the water, horseplay can be dangerous.
  • Get out of the water if you see lightning or hear thunder.
  • Swim a safe distance away from diving boards and slides. Never swim under them.
  • Never swim near a dam or boat ramp.
  • Avoid swimming in river currents.

Rules for Pool Slides:

  • Slides should be at the deep end of the pools so that the entry is into water least eight feet and away from diving areas.
  • Go down feet first in a sitting position. (Going down headfirst is dangerous-you could injure your head, neck, or back.)

Rules for the Beach/Lake:

  • Know where the nearest lifeguard stand is.
  • Be sure you know the surf or wake conditions before you enter the water.
  • Check for warning flags.
  • Observe danger signs: Weather especially
  • Swim well away from piers, pilings, and diving platforms.
  • Be on the lookout for dangerous marine life
  • If you swim out from shore, remember you have to swim back.
  • If you are caught in a current, don't try to fight it or swim against it. You can make it back to shore by swimming gradually away from it.
  • Don't let any one pressure you into a dangerous stunt, like jumping from cliffs, throwing each other in the air, holding your breath contests or otherwise.

Rules for Water Park Slides, Flumes and Wave Pools:

  • Be sure all areas have a lifeguard.
  • Position yourself carefully before you start down.
  • Don't get pressured into a stunt.
  • In a wave pool be sure you know how deep the water will be when the wave pool is turned on.

Many thanks to Dr. Patrick Yost and as well to Issaac Wentz, a medical student from Casper, who helped to write the statistical portion of this article.