Summer Safety Week: Swimming Safety
With the temperatures rising and the days getting longer, swimming is just too much of a temptation to be ignored. A relaxing dip in a cool pool, lake or river is perfect for these hot summer days. But a relaxing day can turn tragic in an instant. Death due to drowning claims over 3,500 people per year. And to make it worse, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under 5. As a mother of 2 beautiful little girls, I never want to see anything bad happen to a child. So let’s talk about swimming safety.
Rivers, Lakes and Streams
We don’t always swim in pools. When we go on vacation or go camping, we usually end up swimming somewhere that isn’t chlorinated. My family has a long history of going to some of the gorgeous lakes and rivers in Arkansas to go swimming and canoeing. It’s something we have always done every year and that we continue to do with our girls.
Swimming in a natural environment is a bit harder to do than swimming in a pool. There are numerous factors that play into how the day is going to go and how the swimming is going to be.
One of the most prominent differences in swimming in a natural environment compared to a pool is that there are usually no lifeguards. There is a local swimming area here that does have a lifeguard present on the lake, but this is the exception to the rule.
When you don’t have a lifeguard, you have to be more aware of your surroundings. You find yourself keeping an eye on the people around you. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, or you haven’t taken precautions against drowning, it may not be a good idea to swim where there isn’t a lifeguard.
When you are swimming in a natural environment, you are subject to the whims of nature herself. You have to be able to tell what the weather is going to do. Here in the South, we are used to what we call “pop-up" storms. They’re called that because they will pop up out of nowhere.
We can usually tell when they are coming because of the change in the wind or the air pressure. During these types of storms you want to make sure you are well away from the water and under some cover. They tend to have lots of lightning and heavy rain. Sometimes they even produce hail. Not the kind of weather you want to endure in a bathing suit.
When one of these storms comes up leave the water immediately. Take cover. Even if you only make it to your car, be sure to stay there. After the storm passes, make sure to stay under cover for at least 30 minutes. If you can’t make it to cover, stay away from tall isolated trees, open areas and metal objects. Remember, lightning will usually strike metal first and then the tallest isolated object next.
Some other things that you will need to take into consideration are in the water itself. Swimming in a natural environment means that there are animals that live there. Be aware of the wildlife. Most of the time it will be completely harmless, like the guppies that nibble on your toes, but there are dangers out there as well.
Here in Arkansas we have one of the most poisonous water snakes in the world. The water moccasin is fast and has deadly venom and they don’t like to be bothered. From a young age, we are taught what they look like and to get away from them as quickly as possible. No matter where you live or where you are going to swim, there is always going to be some sort of animal that will be a danger to you and your family.
Do some research before taking that plunge. Make sure you know what the animals look like and what their habits are. You certainly don’t want to gamble with your lives on what you might remember from science class.
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re swimming in a natural environment is that even lakes are going to have currents. Rivers will have more currents than any other body of water. You will need to make sure that the current isn’t too strong for the people who will be swimming in it. Make sure to keep away from white water or rocks that will cause the current to speed up.
Make sure to watch for drop offs in the water that will cause the water depth to change rapidly. And always keep an eye on what other people are doing. If you are swimming in a lake that allows motor boat traffic, they can create wakes that will overwhelm smaller children or people who are not strong swimmers.
Swimming at the Beach
You know what I want to do someday? Swim in the ocean. I’ve never been able to visit the ocean. I had a friend up in New Jersey invite me up there one summer, but I was right in the middle of way too many college classes to just take off on a cross country road trip.
I imagine swimming in the ocean would be similar to swimming in the Mississippi River, except less dirty. The main thing that would be similar would be the current. It would be far more dangerous in the ocean because of the Rip currents or rip tides. These are currents that form in any large open water areas. The form mainly in low spots and breaks in sandbars or near things like jetties and piers.
A rip current will grab you and pull you away from the shore and potential rescue. Make sure to check the conditions before you go swimming. In areas close to the beaches there are ocean reports that come out daily and let people know how the conditions are going to be, making sure to check those before heading out. Talk to a lifeguard and make sure that it’s safe to go out.
Stay away from anything under the water that could help form a rip current. One of the things we were taught as children was not to get caught underneath something and pulled further under. So stay away from piers and jetties. There are usually permanent rip currents around these structures.
How to Escape a Rip Current
If you are caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Swim parallel to the shore with the current until you are out of it. Once you have gotten out of the current, turn back to the shore. If you can’t make it to shore, make a lot of noise and move your arms in a crossing ‘X’ pattern. That is the international sign for distress.
If someone else is caught in a rip current, get help immediately. If there isn’t a lifeguard available, call 911. Throw the victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape a rip current. Don’t try to rescue them yourself unless you are a trained beach lifeguard.
Swimming Safety Tips
The American Red Cross offers some great tips to help keep you and your family safe this summer. Remember to:
- Only swim in designated areas where you are supervised by lifeguards.
- Swim with someone else. Never try to swim alone.
- Never leave a young child unattended and never trust one child to watch another.
- Teach children to ask permission to go near the water.
- Make sure that young children or inexperienced swimmers wear life jackets. Floaties don’t count.
- Make sure to keep an eye on everyone in the water.
- Makes sure everyone in your family learns how to swim.
- If you have a pool, make sure it is secured with appropriate barriers. Many children who drown in pools were out of sight for less than 5 minutes and in the care of one or both of their parents at the time.
- Avoid distractions when you are watching children in water.
- If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
- Have appropriate equipment on hand when you are near the water. This includes: reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
- Know how and when to call 911.
- Protect your skin. Make sure to limit the amount of time you are exposed to the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
- Drink plenty of water. Even if you aren’t thirsty, drinking water is important. Dehydration can affect your mental cognition and decision making.
- Learn basic first aid and CPR. I have been CPR certified since 8th grade and later became certified in infant CPR when I became pregnant with our first child. It has always been a relief to know that I can do something to help my children and family if I needed.
One of the things that could potentially save your life in a bad situation is being water competent. So what does that mean? It means improving water safety for yourself and those around you. It means avoiding common dangers and developing fundamental water safety skills. It also means knowing how to prevent and respond to drowning emergencies. Water competency is broken up into three parts: water smarts, swimming skills and helping others.