Water safety tips for parents

Water safety is a critical issue on island and one that parents need to learn about, discuss and practice with their family members, says Laura Ribbins, a local aquatics expert and instructor.

Here are Ms Ribbins’ guidelines for parents:

Teach your kids to think first and save their life. Let’s keep kids safe. No matter what the age or swimming ability – if they fall in the water or someone else falls – do they know what to do? What can you do to teach water safety?

Get help

If a child sees someone, big or small, who needs help – the first thing they need to do is get help. Call 911.

Small children should never go in the water after someone. Often, this is how a double drowning occurs. But what happens if the person who needs assistance is the adult supervising the child, or what happens if they feel there is no help around?

Reach or throw, don’t go

If you see someone who is in the water and needs help, use a reaching or throwing assist to help that victim. You should never endanger yourself by going into the water and swimming out to the victim.

What is around the pool area that you could throw to the one in trouble? A foam noodle? A life ring or life jacket? If you can throw a buoyant object and tell the swimmer in trouble to hang on and kick toward the edge, you will stay safe. You can make your own throwing assist rescue equipment by taking an empty plastic milk jug (keep cap on) and tie it onto a rope about eight feet long. Parents can practice rescues with their kids this way: With the rescuer standing on the edge of the pool, hold on to the end of the rope and throw the attached buoyant bottle out to the victim. Remember to hold onto the end of the rope so you can pull them in.

Reaching assists are the easiest and safest rescue method to teach your children. Have them lie down on the deck of the pool and reach with a foam noodle to the victim. Encourage the kids to use a strong, loud voice as they yell “hold on with both hands and I will pull you in”.

Be water smart

People of all ages have drowned by going in after someone to help. There is a right way to be a hero – be water smart. Teach children water and swimming skills. The youngest children can be taught to reach for the wall if they fall in, increasing their chances of survival.

People drown when too much water gets into their lungs. When that happens, the lungs can’t carry enough oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body.

Supervision and swim lessons

Drowning is the second most common cause of death from injuries among kids under the age of 14. Drowning can happen quickly – sometimes in less than two minutes after a person’s head goes under the water. That leaves very little time for someone to help.

Kids need constant supervision around water, whether the water is in a bathtub, a wading pool, an ornamental fish pond, a swimming pool, a spa, the ocean or a lake.

Young children are especially vulnerable – they can drown in less than two inches (six centimetres) of water. That means drowning can happen where you’d least expect it – the sink, the toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools or small bodies of standing water around your home, such as ditches filled with rain water. Always watch children closely when they’re in or near any water.

It’s a good idea to learn to swim, and kids older than three should learn to swim, too (check local swim centres for classes taught by qualified instructors).

Infants and toddlers can take swim classes to start becoming aware of the enjoyable water environment, as well as to respect it.

Parents are also advised not to assume that a child who knows how to swim isn’t at risk for drowning. Further, infants, toddlers and weak swimmers should have an adult swimmer within arm’s reach to provide ‘touch supervision.’ All kids need to be supervised in the water, no matter what their swimming skill levels.

Tips for parents:

Walk slowly in the pool area. Don’t run.

Swim at a depth that is safe for you. If you’re just learning to swim, stay in the shallow end.

Don’t push or jump on others.

Watch out for the dangerous “too’s” – too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.

Don’t chew gum or eat while you swim – you could choke.

Don’t rely on flotation devices to protect your children in the water. They need to be watched just as closely with floaties as without.

Install a self-closing gate around the pool.

Install an alarm that signals if a door is left open.

Remove any toys that may attract children to the pool area.

Avoid keeping water in buckets or other large containers open and laying around.

Dry drowning

Know the warning signs for dry drowning. People can actually die hours after swallowing water. I’d never heard of this until a friend sent me a link to this article. It is extremely scary to me that this happens. I know I’ve been in the pool with my son when he has swallowed water, and as long as he seemed OK, I never would have suspected a problem. Keep an eye out for these warning signs, which are very easy to overlook:

Difficulty breathing

Extreme tiredness

Changes in behaviour

Finally: Learn to swim

The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim – this includes adults and children.