A little preparation can help you cool off safely.
If the heat and humidity of summer have you down, you can find relief by diving into a pool. Swimming pools are a great place to exercise while cooling off from the searing temperatures of the summer months. What could be better than jumping into the water on a hot, sunny day? Still, it’s important to keep safety in mind, says Jenny McCuiston, a former Olympic Trials swimmer and co-founder of Goldfish Swim School Franchise, LLC, a swim school franchise with 120 locations throughout the U.S. and one in Canada. “Each summer, families start spending more time in and around the water,” McCuiston says. “Heading to the pool with friends and family is a wonderful way to spend quality time together and have the kids exercise and play. Water and summer, after all, go hand in hand.”
Staying safe while having fun
It’s crucial to maintain safety and vigilance while you’re at the pool to mitigate the risk of drownings. In June, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission published a new national average of 397 reported pool- or spa-related drownings annually involving children younger than 15. That’s an increase from the 379 annual drowning fatalities reported in the commission’s 2020 report. Drowning is the top cause of unintentional death among children under age 5. Because of COVID-19 pandemic social distancing guidelines and swim lesson restrictions, many children have had limited experience around water, which could put them at higher risk of drowning.
Here are 12 tips and strategies to promote pool safety:
1. Designate a water guardian.
Make sure to keep your eyes on your kids at all times — even if lifeguards are present. Kids are naturally curious and are always willing to push the limits without knowing the true hazards. McCuiston recommends designating an adult “water guardian” to keep watch on kids at and around the pool. Be sure to change guardians every 30 minutes so he or she remains alert and refreshed. “A water guardian’s sole responsibility needs to be keeping an eye on the swimmers. Vigilance is key — no chatting, no checking your phone, no distractions.”
2. Install a four-sided fence.
Pool sales surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic as families turned to creating a backyard oasis where they could exercise without exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus. New pool owners should be sure to surround their pool with four-sided isolation fencing and install a self-closing and self-latching gate that a child cannot reach, McCuiston says. Drowning is often silent, but there are certain measures you can take to alert you of potential danger. “To prevent kids from slipping outside unnoticed, install a secondary barrier such as pool alarms and locks on doors and windows that have direct access to the pool area. These secondary barriers will alert adults of opening doors and gates.”
3. Know what to do in a water emergency: Act, throw, don’t go.
A water emergency can spark feelings of anxiety, fear and panic. Knowing how to respond will help you manage your emotions and to act. “Make sure you and your kids know what to do in a water emergency,” McCuiston says. “Your first instinct may be to go toward the person having trouble in the water. Instead, you should throw or reach a life preserver of sorts — and don’t go. That way, you aren’t putting yourself in jeopardy as well, and are truly able to help.”
4. Wear bright-colored swimwear.
When shopping for summer swimwear, avoid colors that could blend in with the water and choose swimsuits with bright colors instead, McCuiston recommends. Brightly colored swimsuits will stand out in the water and make it easier to spot a swimmer in need of help.
5. Avoid unsafe practices.
Don’t engage in extended underwater breath-holding activities, advises Rowdy Gaines, a U.S. Olympic gold medal swimmer who’s vice president of partnerships and development at the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. He’s also a champions board member of PHTA’s swim safety initiative, Step Into Swim. Holding your breath underwater can disrupt your oxygen and carbon dioxide balance and can lead to passing out.
6. Teach children to stay away from drains.
All public pools and spas are required to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, which mandates that all public pool and spa circulation systems be outfitted with a properly installed anti-entrapment drain cover fitting. Although the latest data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that there have been zero fatalities involving children entrapped on a suction outlet cover in public pools and spas since the VGB Act went into effect in 2007, it is important to check the drains on every pool and spa — public or private — before allowing kids to swim, says Nikki Fleming, head of the CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign. “Children should not play or swim near drains or suction outlets, especially in spas and shallow pools, and never enter a pool or spa that has a loose, broken or missing drain cover,” she says. “Children’s hair, limbs, jewelry or bathing suits can get stuck in a drain or suction opening. When using a spa, be sure to locate the emergency vacuum shutoff before getting in the water.”
7. Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.
According to the American Heart Association, even if a drowning victim goes into cardiac arrest, if CPR is provided immediately it can double — or even triple — a victim’s chance of survival. Bystanders are often the first people available to aid a drowning victim, especially a child, so learning CPR can help save a life. It is important to get CPR certified, and once you are, make sure to keep your certification current. CPR certification classes are available through many hospitals, community centers or by contacting the American Red Cross. “Don’t assume it’s too late to save someone’s life. Even if he or she is unresponsive, continue performing CPR and do not stop until medical professionals take over,” Fleming says.
8. Read the pool’s rules.
Before you jump in the water, read the pool’s rules, which are typically posted in a prominent location at or near the pool entrance, McCuiston says. Pool rules often include prohibitions on swimming if you have a cold or other contagious disease, as well as running on the pool deck, diving in the shallow end and bringing recreational equipment, like a ball, unless authorized by the lifeguard. Pool rules also typically require swimmers to wear proper swimsuits and all children to be accompanied by an adult. If you take your child to the pool, be sure he or she understands and follows the rules.
9. Bring a life jacket.
If you or your child are novice swimmers and haven’t yet mastered water safety skills, always wear life jackets in or near a body of water, says Lindsay Mondick, senior director of innovative priorities, who oversees aquatics at the YMCA of the USA. Be sure to get life jackets that have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, she says. Not all such jackets have the Coast Guard’s seal of approval, which is typically found on the tag inside the jacket.
10. Bring other necessary safety items.
In addition to life jackets, you should have basic safety items on hand at the pool. Be sure to have a working, charged cellphone, in case you need to call 911, as well as a first aid kit and a ring buoy you can toss to someone during a water safety emergency.
11. Don’t swim alone.
“No one should ever swim by themselves, in case of an accident,” Mondick says. Don’t enter the water unless there’s a lifeguard at the pool or a responsible friend; for kids, this means a parent or guardian who could help in the event of a mishap in the water.
12. Check the water temperature.
Test the water temperature before you get into the pool, McCuiston says. Jumping into cold water can shock your body and elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, and also slow your muscles, making it difficult to swim. “Listen to your body,” she says. “If it’s too cold for you, it’s going to be too cold for kids. Keep the festivities on dry land if you are not comfortable. If you are adamant about getting in the water, you should consider a wetsuit, and stay in shallow water. Avoid swimming after it rains, as water and air temperature will be cooler.”
To recap, here are 12 tips and strategies for staying safe at the pool:
— Designate a water guardian.
— Install a four-sided fence.
— Know what to do in a water emergency: Act, throw, don’t go.
— Wear bright-colored swimwear.
— Avoid unsafe practices.
— Teach children to stay away from drains.
— Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.
— Read the pool’s rules.
— Bring a life jacket.
— Bring other necessary safety items.
— Don’t swim alone.
— Check the water temperature.
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Update 08/05/21: This slideshow was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.