As beautiful as oceans are, and as healthy as drinking 8 cups of water each day is, water can be surprisingly menacing. In this guide, we'll talk about the hidden dangers of water and how to keep your family safe.
Pools, rivers, lakes, and oceans - each has its dangers. With pools, it's easy for children to fall into the deep end, or to accidentally wade in over their heads. In rivers, you need to think about currents or obstacles while tubing or kayaking. In large lakes and oceans, rip currents are a real danger, not to mention thin ice and freezing water.
Why the Water Is So Risky
Let's start by talking about why water presents such a danger. Water is so dangerous because it's so deceptively harmless. Most of us associate water with vacations, summer afternoons by the pool, or a relaxing fishing day with our grandpa.
The idea that water is dangerous somehow becomes lost in our unconscious mind. But, the sad fact is that over a quarter of a million people drown worldwide each year. Drowning is a leading cause of death for young children, and it's also a threat to many adults.
While we should enjoy the water while avoiding living in a constant state of panic, it's prudent not to overlook the dangers. The best thing you could do is develop good habits of water safety.
What are these habits? Let's talk about them.
Rules to Stay Safe Around Water
There are some common sense precautions we can take to remain safer around the water. Each of these guidelines requires careful thinking and some planning. As you'll see, most of the time, you can stay safe by understanding the risks and maintaining a healthy respect for the power of water.
Here are several ways to stay safe around the water:
- Know high-risk situations
- Keep barriers in place around pools
- Use lifejackets when needed
- Avoid hazardous water conditions
- Train children to swim
- Avoid any distractions at the water
- Learn rescue skills
I'll go over each of these in more detail below.
Be Aware of High-Risk Water Situations
Since children are at the greatest risk of drowning, it's wise to be aware of your kids' interactions with water, even if you're not swimming. For example, if you visit someone's house and you learn they have a pool, do your best to assess the safety of that pool before allowing children to play freely.
The same is true anywhere. If you're at a park with a lake or a pond, it's wise to assess how easy it would be for your children to access the water. Even if you're not there to swim unsupervised children can fall into the water.
Keep Fences in Place Around Pools
In many areas, there is a need to have fences around a pool. These barriers can protect very young children who cannot swim or even call for help. Fences should be self-locking so that they aren't easy to leave open. Also, the fences should be tall enough that a child cannot climb over them.
Finally, fences should also provide a barrier from the house. Meaning, a child shouldn't be able to open a door from inside and then walk out to the pool. Fences are helpful, but they aren't the only barrier you can use to keep people safe.
Lifejackets for Water Safety
Using properly fitted lifejackets is always recommended around open water, including lakes and oceans. Some people say, "I don't need a life jacket. I can swim." It's understandable, but even the best swimmers will become exhausted if they fall into open water and don't have help right away.
Further, if someone goes unconscious for any reason (due to hypothermia, for example) the lifejacket will keep them near the surface so they can be easily found.
Avoid Hazardous Water Conditions
If you're traveling to a public body of water, check with the local authorities if there are any alerts. In many areas, there will be listings on the internet about hazards around local beaches. These hazards can range from large waves to rip tides to poor water quality.
In some cases, if you're at a large park, you can ask the staff about any potential water hazards. If you're doing something like kayaking, ensure that you know how to stay safe in large waves. And, even if there are no waves, if a motorboat zooms past you, it can create quite a wake that could cause your vessel to capsize.
Even with a personal pool, take the time to check the water quality. Yes, you might not drown, but dirty water can make you sick.
Teach Children to Swim
Teaching children to swim can protect them from drowning. Even a young child can learn to stay afloat, keeping their head above the water. Some studies suggest that teaching children to swim can reduce their risk of drowning by as much as 80 percent.
If you don't have any way to teach them to swim, or you don't know how you can look for swimming classes at a local community center. These classes will teach children how to stay afloat and how to stay safe around the water.
Note: if you're an adult and your swimming skills aren't what you'd like, you can also take swimming classes. Many areas offer swim classes for adults. These classes will help you gain confidence as a swimmer. Also, many areas have lifeguards on duty, so you can practice in a safe environment without worrying about rip tides or water snakes.
Avoid Distractions when Around the Water
One of the insidious things about accidents around the water is that they often happen silently. A parent might not even notice that their child has gone under the water. While modern movies depict people screaming and yelling for help before they drown, this doesn't always happen.
Even something like a diving accident, when someone hits their head when leaping headfirst into the water, might not be loud or noticeable. What's the point? Any time you're around the water, you should keep an eye on your swim partners or children. Avoid alcohol or engaging in activities that take your eyes off the water.
Get Trained in First Aid
If someone does experience a drowning incident, there is a good chance of reviving them if you quickly deploy first aid skills. Some of these skills include rescue breathing and CPR. If a person has drowned in cold water, then there's an even better chance of reviving them. In some instances, people have been resuscitated after extended periods of cold water immersion.
Also, if you have a large pool or spend a lot of time around the water, you can consider taking a lifeguard class. These classes last a few weeks, and they will train you in some standard water rescue techniques so that you can safely help someone who is struggling.
If you'd like, you can review this article on how to provide good rescue breaths.
Carry Key First Aid Supplies When Near the Water
Try to always have a few first aid items on hand. Even if you set the drowning aside, the waterfront can be a hazardous place. Many people run around without any shoes, leading to bad cuts and gashes. And, if you're in the ocean, you have to beware of sharks and other potentially dangerous sea life.
If you'd like, you can read this article explaining how to build a small first aid kit.
Bonus: How to Escape from Rip Currents
Rip currents can be very dangerous and will quickly carry even the strongest swimmers out into deep water. The dangerous rip currents are usually found in the ocean, or large lakes (the great lakes). The best thing is to avoid rip currents, so watch for any break in the waves where the current flows out.
If you're caught in a rip current, the best thing to do is "Wave, Yell, and Swim Parallel." This means you don't swim against the current, you swim across it like you're swimming across a river. If you're not a strong swimmer, just focus on staying afloat and screaming for help from the shore. If you'd like, you can read more about how to avoid rip currents in this article.
Note: another fear related to oceans is that of shark attacks. Know that shark attacks are incredibly rare, but if you'd like to learn how to stay safe from any potential risk, read this guide on how to avoid shark attacks.
Conclusion: The Importance of Water Safety
Staying safe around the water requires vigilance. Always keep an eye on children, avoid distractions, and beware of any hazards. Teaching children how to swim can help keep them safe, as can using life jackets when needed.
If you enjoyed learning about how to stay safe in the water, then take some time to read about another summertime topic: how to recognize and treat heat emergencies.