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Tips to keep kids safe at the beach or in the pool

Written By | Jul 4, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC, July 4, 2016 – Fun in the sun and fun in the water are a perfect match on hot summer days. It can be a pool, a water park, the ocean, a river or lake. No matter which one you choose, safety needs to be put first before fun, especially when babies and kids are involved. These tips will ensure everyone has a wonderful time and comes home safely at the end of the day. 

Never leave a child unsupervised

Children should never be left unsupervised in the water, no exceptions. It only takes seconds for an accident to happen. Just a few inches of water are enough for a child to drown. Don’t assume your toddler will be fine alone in the baby pool. Children can fall and hit their head, infants can lose their balance and go under, or even crawl into a slightly deeper section of a sloped wading pool while chasing a toy. When kids are walking into natural bodies of water, we can never be sure what’s underwater along the shoreline.

In its Drowning Prevention Fact Sheet, states that since 1999, an average of 745 children under the age of 14 drown every year, with children under the age of five making up three-quarters of all deaths. More than 5,000 children under the age of 14 suffered non-fatal near-drowning injuries since 2009, with 80 percent of them under age five.

Don’t think your kids are safer at a family or friend’s back yard pool. shows 72 percent of deaths and 55 percent of injuries occur at home pools among kids under the age of five. Among older children ages five to 14, most fatalities happen at public pools.

Even at facilities like water parks with lifeguards present, it's your job to watch your own kids, not their job.

Even at facilities like water parks with lifeguards present, it’s your job to watch your own kids, not their job.

It’s your job to babysit, not the lifeguards

While public pools and beaches may employ lifeguards, don’t count on them as the sole supervisor of your children. Their responsibility is to make the swimming area as safe an environment as possible for everyone. Lifeguards are watching not just your children, but you, your friends, your friends’ children, and every other swimmer. That’s a lot of people.

Lakes and oceans have murky water compared to a swimming pool. If someone goes under the surface there, it can be harder for lifeguards to notice. Oceans have powerful rip currents, also known as undertow. These currents have been known to pull grown adults out into dangerous depths where they quickly become exhausted. Imagine this happening to a 10 year old.

Lifeguards do an impressive job reducing the number of drowning fatalities all across the country. But they cannot put your child first every moment. They are responsible for the safety of everyone. Watch your children without exception. If you need help or assistance, then alert a lifeguard to help pull your child to safety. If you can’t prevent a swimming accident from occurring, it’s better for you to notice a need for assistance early before the situation becomes too dire.

Kids can quickly get into harm's way if you aren't familiar with what's under the surface in ponds or lakes. Photo: Jeremy Miles/Creative Commons License

Kids can quickly get into harm’s way if you aren’t familiar with what’s under the surface in ponds or lakes. Photo: Jeremy Miles/Creative Commons License

Know the depth and description of the water

Water depth is something that many people take for granted. Most public pools have nice little tile numbers clearly identifying how many feet of water are above the bottom. They are approximate at best depending on the fill level. Some pools have distinct steps that quickly change the depth, other gradually slope deeper and deeper between to depth markers.  These sloping pools make it easy for children to find themselves suddenly in deeper waters than they can handle. To you, a few feet of water seems like nothing. To your 38 inch tall child, it’s too much to keep their head above water easily, and this is assuming no waves, current, or horseplay by other kids around them.

In lakes, rivers, and oceans, it can be difficult to do anything more than estimate water depth. All can either gradually slope or suddenly drop off.  Since the bottom can be hard to see in these environments, these depth changes can be extremely dangerous. Be aware of any depth markers or swim lane markers placed at lakes and beaches. If possible, wade into the water first so that you can determine any potential dangerous depth changes or hazards, and give you children clear boundary markers as to how far into the water they are allowed to go.

Follow rules for diving safety

As soon as children are able to walk and jump, they want to jump into the water.  Cannonball jumps are a favorite splash maker, and boasting rights come with the biggest splash or the number of people who got wet. The natural next step for daring kids is diving in head first.  Diving can cause serious injuries if done at shallow depths.  A 2008 WebMD News article reports 6,500 injuries on average treated in emergency rooms annually due to diving accidents.

Diving into shallow water can result in a wide range of injuries, from minor scraps from grazing the bottom of a pool to serious neck and spine injuries from hitting one’s head hard against the bottom. Many of these injuries come from diving in water of unknown depth where the bottom is unfamiliar. Even if you know the water is six feet deep, if you can’t see the bottom you don’t know if there are submerged objects that can pose serious injury risk.

Trick dives like handstands, flips and backwards dives add more unpredictable elements. Some pools prohibit these trick drives. If your pool allows them, find out what the rules are. Do not let children dive backward off the side of a pool under any circumstances. Their backward motion is slowed but not stopped by water,  which can allow a head collision with a concrete pool wall.

Fun in the sun means sunscreen, no exceptions

Be sure to apply sunscreen to kids and adults before a day out in the sun and in the water. The harm from a serious sunburn can cause misery for days, along with an increased risk of skin cancer and premature aging for years to come. Sunscreen needs about 15 to 20 minutes to absorb into the skin. Take the bottle with you as well.

Don’t let whiny, squirming, impatient kids wave off the sunscreen. No screen, no sun. The good news is that sunscreen products are being improved all the time. Try one of the newer spray-on sunscreens with titanium dioxide. Your kids may look a little white but they go on easily and they are effective. Spray generously. With lotion forms, you need at least an ounce of sunscreen (a shot glass full) to cover the exposed areas of the body.

Or, consider putting your kids into rash guards, used by surfers and other athletes. They’ve become much more accepted and cool than they used to be.

While the label may say “waterproof,” no sunscreen is truly waterproof, and should be reapplied after swimming or every two hours.

With just a little planning and attention, a day in the water under the sun can turn out to be a fond summer memory, not a lasting nightmare.



Communities Staff