Water Safety


Essential for life.  Quintessential for summer fun.

Most of our earth is covered with it.

Most of your body is made up of it.

The beach!  The pool! Sprinklers and water balloons!

Summer beckons us to the water like honey bees to wildflowers and yet we need to be respectful of this life-giving and sometimes tragically, life-taking force in our world.

Thousands of people in America lose their lives every year because of accidents surrounding water. Many of them are the young. Many of them while out playing with family and friends, enjoying the summer season.  Here are the startling facts from the CDC:

  • Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1 to 4 years old than any other cause except birth defects.
  • Among those 1 to 14 years old, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.

So how do we have fun and stay safe?

Supervision.  Supervision.  Supervision.

Then add an extra helping of wisdom and prevention.

Most of us know you should never leave an infant or young child unsupervised in the bathtub, even if they are “securely propped up” or “only in a few inches of water.”  Not even for a MINUTE.

But how many folks sit around the pool or at the beach, soaking up the sun, enjoying some (yes, much needed!) relaxation time, assuming that the lifeguard is watching their kids for them?

Don’t EVER assume someone else is watching your child.   And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can keep one eye on them and the other on your book, friend or smartphone.  You have to be vigilant around water!  It only takes a few seconds for your child to get into trouble and by the time you realize what is happening, it may be too late.

Growing up sailing the Great Lakes, my parents’ rule was that we had to prove we could swim a MILE without stopping before we were allowed to be even 20 yards from the shore without life jackets on.  And that was on a perfect weather day.  Even my parents donned their life jackets when the waves were building or the clouds were rolling in.

Now we are raising our three girls sailing on and playing in Lake Michigan.  And our family rule is similar.  Our girls have been required since they were little to be in swim lessons year round until they were strong enough swimmers to be on a swim team.  And thankfully, the law in Illinois requires them to keep their life jackets on when they are out on open water until they are 13 years old, no matter how well they swim.

As I’ve now mentioned life jackets several times, I need to stop and clarify… I’m talking U.S. Coast Guard approved and properly sized PFDs (personal flotation devices), which are a MUST in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and oceans.

‘Noodles’ and ‘water wings’ should NEVER be relied upon as safety flotation devices for young, weak or non-swimmers.  Even if an adult is within arms reach, those devices are not to be trusted to keep your child safe.

A few other reminders…

DIVING into a lake or a river is a no-no.  Remind your kids that unless they are in a designated diving area with clear water (i.e., the deep end of the local pool), they should NOT trust that it is safe to dive.  Murky lake and river water can hide submerged debris that has drifted with currents and may be lurking even under a “well known and safe” diving hole, with debilitating or fatal outcome.

Similarly, teach your children to always go down water slides feet first.   Save their teeth.  Save their brains.  Protect their necks.

Sun protection is extra important around water as Dr. Ben wrote last month.  If your kids are like mine, every time they come up for air they rub the water out of their eyes, and thus the sunscreen off their sweet cheeks.  The rule: GO THICK OR GO HOME. And reapply frequently!

Also remember that kids need to DRINK water when they are active, even when they are active IN the water!  Kids are more likely to forget to re-hydrate when swimming.  Encourage them to drink water at all sunscreen breaks, if not more often. (And occasionally buy them those neon blue slushies.  It is summer, of course. ☺)

Water is beckoning and beautiful… and as a sailor, there is NO place I would rather be than out on the water with family and friends, but BE SAFE.  Don’t underestimate the power of our world’s most amazing resource, our body’s most necessary element and one of life’s most enticing providers of endless play, quality time, and healthy exercise.   Supervision, prevention, and wise choices will help to keep your family safe and having fun this summer in and around the water.

Written by: Dr. Shana Christian