Prepare for Warm-Weather Water Fun with Lessons, Locks, and Lookouts
As summer approaches and warm weather beckons families to cool off at the pool or beach, health professionals warn that children’s drownings or near-drownings are a possibility. Emily Edwards, M.D., pediatrician, MemorialCare Medical Group, notes that drownings can happen any time of year, especially in arid Southern California— but the beginning of summer can increase the risk as summer vacation begins. She offers parents several tips and resources to help them prepare for beach and pool season.
“After birth defects, drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and second for children ages 5 to 14,” Dr. Edwards explains. “We see drownings and near-drownings, that can have severe neurological and other serious consequences.”
“Parents need to remember that drowning can happen within seconds, and it’s a silent killer,” she adds.
“It’s very important to remember that kids can drown in a few inches of water.” Bathtubs and showers can be as dangerous as swimming pools, lakes, and the beach.
Pool safety advice for parents
When Dr. Edwards sees young patients she advises parents about water safety, noting that swimming lessons are available — at many local community pools — and recommended for children as young as a few months old.
It’s crucial that parents of young children remain within inches of their kids when they’re in the water. Children should never swim or play in the water alone.
“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, they must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest,” Dr. Edwards advises. “It is also important that the child keeps it on and that you are constantly watching.”
In addition, Dr. Edwards notes, fences must surround swimming pools, and parents should add extra layers of protection, such as locks on doors and pool alarms. An assigned pool watcher should watch any children in the water.
“The only thing the watcher should do is keep an eye on the kids,” Dr. Edwards explains. “They can’t be on their phone or at a party where there are many distractions, especially if there are children around that don't know how to swim.” Parents and childcare providers should be CPR-certified and know first aid.
Beach safety tips for families
Older children, Dr. Edwards says, are more likely to experience drowning in lakes and the ocean. “In Southern California, we love to go to the beach, and it is important to teach kids how to be safe there,” Dr. Edwards adds. “Kids should always swim with a buddy, within sight of a lifeguard tower, and recognize that ocean conditions happen quickly.” Dr. Edwards notes that older children and parents should be watching for possible distress signals for help from the water.
Overall water safety tips
Dr. Edwards recommends ways parents can help keep children safe around home swimming pools and hot tubs in their own backyards, at the neighbors’, or on vacation. Safety tips include:
- Install a fence at least 5 feet high around all four sides of the pool. The safest fence surrounds all sides of the pool and completely separates the pool from the house and yard.
- Ensure pool gates open out from the pool, and self-close and latch at a height which children cannot reach.
- Keep barriers and alarms in good repair with fresh batteries.
- Maintain rescue equipment and a phone near the pool.
- Ocean swimming should only be allowed when a lifeguard is on duty.
- Teach children about rip currents. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until escaping the current, then swim back to shore.
When kids get close to drowning, the brain is deprived of oxygen — and brain cells can begin to die within five minutes. There is no known cure for this type of brain injury, so the best way to keep children safe in the water is to be attentive and preventive.