Summer Water Safety
We are hearing a lot this year about staying safe in the water with news reports on everything from lifeguard shortages to shark attacks to drownings. It can be downright depressing, but with a little thought and planning, there are still many ways to enjoy summer fun.
Safe at the Pool
AARP magazine June 2022 edition had a one pager on Staying Safe in or near the water, and highlighted items we know as good common sense – here are swimming do’s.
- Learn to swim if you don’t know how, or take a refresher course is your skills are rusty. The Rowan-Cabarrus YMCA offers swim classes for children as young as 6 months (water acclimation) and also for adults.
- Swim with a buddy or at least have someone watch you while you swim
- Inexperienced swimmers should use Coast Guard approved life jackets for flotation. For children, the water wings are not safe. The preferred device for children is an item known as Puddle Jumpers, which goes around the body and has the wings on the arms.
I spoke with Amanda Hesse who is the Executive Director of the Saleeby-Fisher East Rowan Branch of the Rowan-Cabarrus YMCA. With over 30 years of experience, Amanda also serves as the Vice President for Risk and Safety of the entire Rowan Cabarrus YMCA system. She had some good points about water safety, especially as relates to children. “You can never talk enough with your children about pool safety, whether a backyard pool or a public pool. The earlier children can learn to swim the better, but they also need a healthy respect for water and the rules.” Amanda talked about teaching children to roll onto their backs in the water, and also pointed out a sign parents should be aware of…the sniffing position. “If you see a child down in the water to their ears with their nose up like they are sniffing, this is a sign of potential distress.” Amanda says that children often play so hard in and around the pool and become fatigued, which is when there can be trouble. Her best advice with children is to have 1:1 adult supervision while in the water.
Here are swimming don’ts –
- Never dive into shallow water or any water that you cannot see the bottom (like a lake). Diving headfirst requires at least 7.5 to 9 feet of depth, clear of any obstruction.
- Never try to rescue someone by yourself. Call for help and throw them a flotation device or use a long pole or similar object to reach them.
- Don’t mix alcohol and swimming!
If you are swimming at a public pool with a lifeguard on duty, be sure to understand the training the lifeguard has had before you place total trust in them. Red Cross or other lifeguard certification programs include CPR training and the use of a Rescue Tube, which is an elongated rubber type device. Look for such a device at the public pool to be assured the safety is present. Also remember that the lifeguard should watch the water and not get distracted by pool deck behavior management. A well-run pool will have a pool manager to handle everything else so that the lifeguard can focus on the water.
Safe at the Lake
In 2019, Joyce Caron-Mercier wrote a great article about safety at High Rock Lake, here in Rowan County. If you are a lake lover, I encourage you to review her article – (https://yourrowan.com/big-fun-even-bigger-responsibility/) as it is very complete and detailed.
She covers important issues such as the use of personal flotation devices (life jackets!), navigating the lake, who may drive watercraft, and boating and jet ski rules.
A highlight of her article emphasizes watercraft safety with children.
Children must always have a life jacket on whenever the vessel is underway and not tethered. Life jackets need to be properly fitted for children based on chest size and weight, which means zipped up and buckled. As a test, you should be able to grab and pull up on the shoulders restraints and the vest stay on.
According to the US Coast Guard’s Office of Boating Safety, babies should not travel on a boat — including rowboats, kayaks, motorboats, and sailboats — until they are at the appropriate weight to wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD). It should go without saying, strollers and car seats are not water buoyant!
Don’t forget the Type 4 throw cushion or donut which needs to be readily accessible at all time, not under the seats. These quick throw floatation devices can be a life saver, literally.
Lake swimming can be fun, but also treacherous. Lakes are typically dammed rivers, and with a river comes currents and the transport of debris. A deep area one day may not be deep the next, so extra caution is critical.
Safe at the Beach
As a young girl I loved to ride the waves on a canvas raft- it was my absolute favorite thing to do. I didn’t really understand the ocean then as well as I do now. Every day is different at the beach – tides change, topography changes – one day can be calm, and next day the waves are “standing on their hind legs” as my mother says. We do have many fish in our ocean waters and from time to time there are bites from sharks, barracudas, and stings from jelly fish. But the ocean is also a beautiful and wonderful place, so keep these things in mind:
- Do not swim alone
- Do not go out above your head
- Watch the lifeguard stand for flags that signal the degree of caution you should exercise
- Green is a reasonably calm sea that is ok for playing in- low hazard
- Yellow means swim with caution, as there could be turbulent seas – medium hazard
- Red means stay out of the water – high hazard such as riptides
- Double Red – stay out of water
- Purple – Dangerous Marine Life – like sharks
- White means the lifeguard is on break and you are on your own!
There are not as many lifeguard stands along the Carolina beaches this year due to labor shortages, so if you decide to swim in the ocean, be sure to do so near a lifeguard stand in case you need help.
Have a great summer and I hope you follow some of these tips to keep you and your family safe.