Water Safety Essentials

Stay Safe In and Around Pools and Lakes

When the summer heat lures you to the cool water’s edge, think twice before stepping in.  More importantly, know where children are at all times around any body of water. Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children age 14 and under and a major cause of permanent brain damage.

It doesn’t take much water or time. A young child can drown in a shallow wading pool or bathtub within seconds. A teenager can be swept up in the current of a shallow creek. Most kids don’t yell for help; they just disappear. Adults can drown, too, especially when they mix drinking or drugs with boating.

According to the American Red Cross, the single best thing you can do to stay safe in the water is to learn to swim. But knowing how to swim doesn’t mean you can let down your guard around water.  It's important to know the facts:

  • Drowning happens quickly and quietly. Diving accidents occur within seconds.

  • Over 80% of drowning victims are male.

  • Statistically, African-American children between 4 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than Caucasian children the same age. Hispanic children are less likely than Caucasians to drown.

  • A child submerged in water begins to lose consciousness in 2 minutes, and suffers irreversible brain damage in 4 to 6 minutes.

  • A toddler can drown in 1 inch of water.

  • Most young children who drown were out of sight less than five minutes.

  • Most drownings over age 15 occur in natural water settings (lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds and arroyos).

  • Alcohol use is connected to more than half of all adolescent and adult deaths related to water recreation.


The Word on Water Safety

Staying safe around water requires common sense and vigilance. Keep these safety measures in mind:

  • Learn to swim. Check out low-cost classes for children (beginning at age 4) and adults through your local park district.

  • Use common sense about swimming. “The ‘swim or sink’ method does not work,” says Jack Franaszek, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Lake Forest Hospital. “Swimming is a learned skill. Never drop a child into the pool and expect they’ll know instinctively how to swim. They won’t.”

  • Swim with a buddy. Never swim alone.

  • Keep home pools and hot tubs locked up, and empty wading pools.

  • If there isn’t a lifeguard, don’t jump in. Stick with supervised swim areas.

  • Never lose sight of children. A young child near water needs constant supervision. Just a few minutes out of sight could end in tragedy.

  • Don’t mix alcohol with boating, skiing or other water sports.

  • Beware excessive conditions that make it hard to swim safely:  Too much sun, too hot, too cold, too tired, or too far from shore.

  • Don’t rely on water toys as safety tools. “Water wings and flotation devices are not substitutes for an approved life-vest,” says Dr. Franaszek. “Those are toys; they’re not meant to be life-saving devices.”

  • Keep a cellphone handy to call 911.

  • Learn CPR.

  • Beware of undercurrents if you're tempted to swim in lakes, rivers or streams.

  • Obey the signs. If a posted sign warns against swimming in a pool, lake or other spot, don’t go in.


Look Twice Before You Dive In

Diving head-first into water that’s too shallow can cause a fatal or paralyzing spinal cord injury in just seconds. “Never dive into a place you don’t know,” says Dr. Franaszek. “And, make sure there is deep water in the pool, with nothing below the surface of the water.”

If you’re not sure about the water’s depth, jump in feet first to check it out. Remember, your body will travel much deeper when you dive in head first.


Best Bets for Boating

Whether boating on Lake Michigan, the Fox River, Chain of Lakes or any of the many waterways throughout Lake County and southeastern Wisconsin, follow these important safety tips:

  • Don’t mix alcohol with boating. It’s just as dangerous as drinking and driving a car.

  • Always wear a life-vest when you’re on a boat, jet-skis, a water tube, canoe, etc. “Even if you’re a good swimmer, wear the life-vest when you’re out on the lake or river,” says Dr. Franaszek.

  • Stay in your ‘lane.’ Follow traffic flow on the water and keep your distance from other boats, skiers or swimmers in the water.

  • Don’t take chances with the weather. If you hear thunder, see lightning, or the winds suddenly pick up, head to shore quickly.

There’s no need to avoid water fun this summer. Just make sure you’re water-wise before you get wet. And, take extra precautions to keep children safe around any water.