Do not allow anyone – not just kids – to swim alone. Even adults who are strong swimmers may get into a situation where they need assistance. At the public pool, beach with a lifeguard – always use the buddy system.
While it's tempting to be adventurous and head to hidden and remote areas to swim, it's important to stick to designated areas to avoid unknown hazards and dangerous conditions you might not be familiar with.
Look for and obey all posted signs – they will designate safe areas, alert to you to potentially hazardous conditions and will usually contain vital information that you may need to use in an emergency situation.
Never leave children unattended near water for even a minute — they can disappear under water or get carried away by a wave in the blink of an eye. Young children can drown silently in as little as 25 seconds, even in the shallow end or in a baby pool. Also, don't entrust a child's safety to another child.
Establish rules for your family and make sure they are enforced. This means setting limits according to each individual's ability and setting safety guidelines. For example, no playing around drains and other pool equipment and forbidding endurance games like breath-holding contests or hyperventilating before swimming.
Don't let a tranquil outdoor setting fool you — any body of water can potentially be hazardous. Extremely cold temperatures, strong currents and underwater hazards can turn a seemingly calm ocean shoreline, lake or stream into a dangerous situation. Stay close to shore, buddy-up and always pay attention to posted signs.
Secondary drowning is when a small amount of water gets into the lungs causing inflammation and difficulty breathing, with symptoms occurring up to 24 hours later. The condition is rare (they only make up 1 to 2 percent of drowning incidents) but can be fatal. Be aware of symptoms like coughing, chest pain, lethargy and fever.
A life jacket is appropriately named — it can literally save your life. Make sure your life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) is Coast Guard Approved and you know the laws in your state pertaining to life jacket use (for example, California law states that every child under 13 years of age on a moving recreational vessel of any length must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.)
Water wings, inflatable toys, floating loungers and pool noodles are not meant to be life preservers. These flotation devices are fine to help little ones gain water confidence but make sure an adult is in the the water right next to them. Also, experts caution against the popular toy mermaid fins, as they can trap a child's legs and prevent them from kicking their way to the surface.
Pay attention to the areas surrounding swimming pools and potential hazards lurking there. Store or move things such as furniture, trees or playground equipment that can entice children to jump off of them or use them for other unsafe access to the pool. Also, keep floating toys out of the pool when they're not in use as they can attract young children into the water.
Give your children your full attention when they're in the water. Cell phones, tablets, books and iPods can be distracting and prevent you from noticing when someone is struggling. The five seconds it takes to read a text message is long enough for a child to be submerged underwater. However, don't leave your cell phone at home — keep it charged and within reach to use in case of an emergency.
If a child is missing, check the water first — every second counts to prevent death or disability. Make sure to have appropriate items nearby — equipment to reach or throw to a struggling person, a cell phone, a first aid kit, a life jacket — to take action when necessary. Teach young children how to use the phone and how to dial 911 in case of an emergency.
Keep pool fences and covers up to date and make sure they meet safety standards. Install anti-entrapment drain covers and make sure your pool filter has a vacuum release system to avoid someone being sucked under.
If you do need to rescue a distressed swimmer, knowing how to perform CPR could save that person's life in the minutes you are waiting for an ambulance or emergency personnel to arrive. It's important for all family members to be trained — children as young as 8 or 9 years old can potentially be trained in CPR. Classes are affordable or often free and available through your local community center, hospital or look for classes through the American Heart Association.
Small children can drown in as little as an inch of water, so kiddie pools (and even buckets and toilets) pose a drowning risk. Keep children supervised at all times whenever they are near water — whether they're wading in the ocean, swimming in a pool or splashing around in a backyard tub.
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