SOS: Safer Outdoor Swimming | Outdoor Channel
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SOS: Safer Outdoor Swimming

Dive into a safe summer with these water-side tips from boonDOCS


From boonDOCS

It is well into summer, and many of us have already been to the pool. Some of us seem to permanently camp out there until Labor Day. If you have your own pool, no doubt you have noticed neighbors suddenly becoming "more neighborly" and seemingly ever-present. In these situations it is acceptable to ask them to bring the burgers and sunscreen!

Maybe it is the heat, but people do some pretty strange things when they get near a swimming pool. Unfortunately, some of these stunts cross the line from careless to downright dangerous, both for themselves and their kids. So, to have a safe summer make sure that you and the people around you follow these principles when hanging around any body of water - not just a pool!

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Here are some basic points to be aware of when you are hanging out poolside:

  • Don't leave young kids unattended around a pool - even for a few minutes. Very bad things can happen in even just a few moments. Almost unbelievably, 75% of preschoolers who drown were out of sight "for 5 minutes or less." Even more heartbreaking, the survivors of near-drowning accidents often have permanent neurological disabilities; this adds up to about one thousand children in the U.S. every year. (This data comes from the Orange County Fire Authority and National Safety Council, respectively.)
  • Inflatable or hard plastic pools present special risks: A child drowns in one of these types of pools every five days in the United States. There is nothing inherently more risky about these pools, but people seem less likely to put fencing around them. The key, here, is to limit access even to shallow water. Ladders leading into pools are also a bad idea if there are little ones around, as they permit easy access.
  • That does not mean you are off the hook if you own an in-ground pool. A frightening statistic to be mindful of is that In-ground pools have a drowning rate that is five times higher than above-ground pools. Again, limit access by using "four-wall" fencing and alarms, especially for in-ground pools.
  • Around 3,400 people drown in the U.S. every year, and 80% of those drownings occur during the summer. That amounts to 31 drownings every single summer day. You can see the age distribution below; everyone - regardless of age! - may be affected!

Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you have young kids and you are still not convinced, ask yourself if you would consider driving them around without a child safety seat. Why? Because for kids 4 years of age and younger, a swimming pool is 14 times more likely to be involved in a death than a motor vehicle (Source: Orange County Fire Authority). One way to make a difference is to teach kids to swim as soon as possible. Kids who cannot swim should not be in a pool under their own power (even supervised). Water wings, rafts, inner tubes, etc. are definitely NOT substitutes for knowing how to swim. When a kid slips out of them, it is the same as if he or she fell in the pool with no flotation device at all. And, remember: Kids who can swim are safer, but they are not absolutely safe. They still need to be watched.

Be aware that there are risk factors for drowning that you can control. Number one for young people and adults is alcohol, which is involved in half of all drownings. Also, young people more often drown in natural bodies of water, from unnecessary risk-taking (for example, diving in unsafe conditions). People with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, seizures, or heart disorders) are at greater risk, as well. Finally, while both very young boys and girls have an approximately equal risk of drowning, in older children and adults, about 80% of drowning victims are male.

Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you think you are safe just by being poolside with your kids, think again. Amazingly, 40% of children under 5 years of age who drown had an adult present. This statistic emphasizes that supervision should be actual supervision; not just being at the pool and reading, but really watching your kids. At 19% of public pool drownings, there is a lifeguard present. Even professional supervision is not absolute insurance.

Similarly, whoever is assigned and accepts responsibility to watch the kids should know what to do if something happens.

  • Does this person know how to swim himself or herself? You should not be near a pool (or other body of water), let alone in one, if you yourself cannot swim. This is a no-brainer. The good news is that you can learn to swim in a few weeks.
  • Does this person know CPR? If not, sign-up for a course at American Red Cross or American Heart Association.
  • Is there a phone at hand?
  • Is there safety equipment like a safety hook, rope, or life preserver?
  • Be wary of any obstruction or object that could "catch" on a swimmer's clothing, create suction (like a drain), or be a barrier to reaching the surface.


There are some easy ways to limit your legal and financial liability as a pool owner, as well. Make sure there are barriers like a secure fence around pools and locking covers on hot tubs. Window guards on pool-facing windows are a good idea, too. Surface-wave pool alarms are available. Not only do they make the pool safer for kids, but they are also great for catching the local teenagers when they jump the fence at 3am with a six-pack.

Though the principles we discussed above mostly focus on swimming pools, they apply to all bodies of water. In fact, these other bodies of water pose additional risks when you consider the lack of underwater visibility, strong currents, nasty marine life, racing watercraft - you name it! Just because the little ones can handle a pool does not mean they can handle currents or surf or mud.

So, this summer stay water-side safe using the tips you just learned and remember: When you're out there...Be there!

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