How to Keep Kids Safe When Swimming in Open Water

Swimming lessons are a smart move for your child, but you can’t just relax as they pass all safety tests. It is one thing for a child to swim well in a pool (and even then he is not protected from drowning ), but open water is a completely different matter. A new report from Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide Make Safe Happen provides some disturbing findings to look out for if your family walks by the lake, river, or ocean this summer.

  • More children drown in open water – lakes, rivers, and oceans each year than in swimming pools or other sources of water.
  • A 10-year-old child is three times more likely to drown in open water than in a pool, due to hazards such as dangerous cliffs, strong currents and limited visibility.
  • Boys are at a much greater risk of drowning in open water than girls, with 84 percent of open water drowning cases among children aged 0-19 being among men.
  • African American children are twice as likely as Caucasian children to drown in open water.

Recent child-related drowning has occurred in Lake Gray in Des Moines , Buffalo River State Park , Sequoia National Park , Lake Manawa , Lake Burlington County, and the list goes on.

What can you do to keep your child safe? Quite a lot, actually. Here are some tips for Dr. Marcy White’s pediatric parent.

Teach the children that swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool .

“Be aware of situations that are unique to open water, such as visibility, depth, surface irregularities, currents and underwater flow,” White says. “These potential hazards can make swimming in open water more challenging than swimming in a pool.”

Make sure the kids learn these five water survival skills:

1) Step or jump into the water over your head and return to the surface 2) Turn around and orient yourself to a safe place 3) Swim or step on the water 4) Combine your breathing with moving forward in the water 5) Get out of the water

Take turns being the Water Watcher

The water watcher agrees to focus his entire attention on the children in the pool for a set amount of time, say 15 minutes.

Encourage your children to wear a Coast Guard-approved lifejacket when they participate in water activities.

Choose one that is appropriate for their weight and activity in the water. For younger children, choose a PFD with both a head support collar and a strap between the legs. Remember that swim aids and water toys such as water wings and inflatable water rings do not prevent drowning.

Use designated swimming and recreation areas whenever possible.

“Professionals have surveyed these areas, and there are usually signs posted on them to indicate hazards and the presence of rescuers,” says White.

Learn basic water rescue and cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills

It is important to know how to act in an emergency without putting yourself in danger. White says, “Learning basic rescue and cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills can help you save a child’s life.”


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