What to know about water safety before heading to the beach or pool this summer (2024)

With school out for the summer and temperatures rising across the country, many families will visit the beach, lake or local swimming pool. Now is the time to review safety tips to keep children safe around water.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of unintentional death for children in the 5 to 14 age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, 973 children under the age of 19 drowned in 2021, and another 6,500 were treated in emergency rooms following near-drowning incidents, according to Gary Karton of Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization working to prevent childhood injury.

In fact, more drownings occur in the summer, specifically in July, than any other time of the year, according to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue lifeguard Daniel Barnickel said there always should be an adult monitoring the water.

"As a whole, never swim alone," he said.

Taking the time to go over safety procedures and rules before heading to the pool or beach can benefit children and their parents.

If you have a backyard pool

The most important safety feature of a backyard swimming pool is a barrier, such as a safety fence, to prevent unsupervised access to the water.

Many children who drowned at home did so during times when they were not expected to be in the water, according to the American Red Cross. In some cases, children were out of sight for less than five minutes and in the care of one or both parents when they slipped into the pool and drowned, the agency said.

That said, it is vital to make sure children learn to swim. There are many programs that teach children to swim, including Red Cross swimming courses across the U.S.

If a child goes missing, remember that seconds count. Check the water first, safety experts advise. It's also important to have appropriate equipment available at home. This includes something to throw into the water for a child to grab onto, a cell phone to call for help, life jackets and a first aid kit.

Skills children should learn to prevent drowning

All children should learn to step or jump into water that's above their head and safely return to the surface and also be able to float or tread water, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

They should also be able to quickly turn around in the water and find a safe place, combine breathing with moving forward in the water and get out of the water.

Create a safe environment

If several adults are at the pool, beach or lake with a group of children, choose a water watcher who can have eyes on the children at all times. It's a great idea to rotate the water watcher among the adults for brief amounts of time, such as 15-minute intervals, experts at Safe Kids Worldwide recommend.

While at the pool or around water, it's advisable to avoid distractions. Put away phones, books and magazines, because drowning is often silent and can happen in less than five minutes.

When you're finished swimming, make sure to remove all floats and pool toys so young children won't be enticed to reach for them.

Teach children to stay away from pool drains or suction devices, which can entrap swimmers' hair or limbs.

Since 2014, all public pools and spas in the U.S. have been required to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, which was named after a 7-year-old girl who died after being caught by the strong suction of a hot tub drain in 2002. Her mother lobbied Congress to require drain covers and other pool safety features.

But even with those safety elements, experts say it's a good practice to check the drains and devices before children get into a pool.

More water safety tips

Always swim with a buddy, or in an area supervised by a lifeguard.

"Make sure that you don't overestimate your abilities," Barnickel said. "Know your limits."

Have young or inexperienced children wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. The size of the life jacket should be based on the child's height and weight. Never substitute arm floaties or inflatable swimming rings for life jackets.

The best practice is to keep children within arm's reach of an adult at all times when in the water and teach them to always ask permission to go near the water.

Enforce safety rules, including no running or pushing on the pool deck and no dunking people in the water. It's also a good idea to keep them from chewing gum or eating while swimming or jumping in the water.

Experts also recommend making sure children know the depth of the water so they don't dive into the shallow end and get injured.

Swimming in open water

Open water, such as the ocean or a lake, is much different than a backyard swimming pool.

Children need to understand there can be limited visibility and uneven surfaces in the ocean and lakes. They also need to be taught about currents and undertow, which can pull them underwater and away from the shore.

"Year after year in South Florida, rip currents claim more lives than every weather-related hazard combined," Barnickel said. "We've seen locals come here that have been going to the beach their whole life, and they've never been caught in a rip current, or they think that they have and they know what to do. And they'll get pulled out into a rip current. We'll go out and get them, and they say, 'I can't believe that happened.'"

When at a beach or lake, it's important to use designated swimming or recreational areas. Watch for signs posted about water hazards, as well as the times that lifeguards will be present.

Related Story: Everything you should know about life jackets and when to wear them

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What to know about water safety before heading to the beach or pool this summer (2024)


What to know about water safety before heading to the beach or pool this summer? ›

Always swim with a buddy, or in an area supervised by a lifeguard. “Make sure that you don't overestimate your abilities,” Barnickel said. “Know your limits.” Have young or inexperienced children wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

How can you tell if water is safe to swim in? ›

The best way to determine if a body of water is safe and the risk of water borne illness is low is to sample the water and check for Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of humans and other mammals.

What are three dangers to be aware of in and around water? ›

Fast-moving currents, waves and rapids, even in shallow water. Hazards, such as dams, underwater obstacles, or rocks and debris. Vegetation, animals and fish.

What are the three rules of water safety around swimming pools? ›

Pool Safety
  • Walk, don't run. The number one pool safety rule is to never, ever run near a swimming pool. ...
  • Listen to instructions and obey pool rules. ...
  • No diving in the shallow end. ...
  • No roughhousing. ...
  • Don't play around drains and covers. ...
  • Never swim alone. ...
  • Sun safety is part of the deal. ...
  • Use pool safety equipment properly.

How do I make sure my pool water is safe? ›

The keys to maintaining water quality in your swimming pool include filtration, chlorination, pH level, total alkalinity (TA) and calcium hardness. Check your pH and chlorine levels daily – preferably, these tests should be done before the first swim of the day to make sure the water quality hasn't altered overnight.

Which months are not recommended for swimming in the beach? ›

July is when disease outbreaks most likely to occur in lakes and oceans.

When should you avoid swimming pools? ›


What is the number one water safety rule? ›

Never swim alone; swim with lifeguards and/or water watchers present. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket appropriate for your weight and size and the water activity. Always wear a life jacket while boating, regardless of swimming skill. Swim sober.

What is the greatest risk to water safety? ›

Microbial contamination of drinking-water as a result of contamination with faeces poses the greatest risk to drinking-water safety.

What are the golden rules of water safety? ›

Obey Pool and Water Safety Rules

No running, eating, gum, or glass containers. Exit the pool at the first sign of thunderstorms or lightning. If there is no lifeguard or supervising adult, wait to swim.

How do most drownings occur? ›

Eighty-seven percent of drowning fatalities happen in home pools or hot tubs for children younger than 5. Most take place in pools owned by family or friends. Children 5 to 17 years old are more likely to drown in natural water, such as ponds or lakes.

What is the most common safety problem you see at the pool? ›

Drowning is typically thought to be the only swimming pool danger, but injuries can also result from unchecked chemical levels and slippery surfaces.

What makes a pool unsafe to swim in? ›

Parasitic, algae, and fungal infections are among the dangers of swimming in untreated pool water, posing significant health risks and unpleasant symptoms. Blue-green algae can produce toxins, leading to skin irritation, respiratory issues, and gastrointestinal problems.

How do you know if it is safe to swim in pool? ›

To be considered safe, the chlorine concentration in a pool should be high enough to control any potential pathogens in the water, Tetro says. This is usually about 1 part per million. "This is quite small but can be incredibly effective at keeping microbes from growing in the water," he points out.

How to check if pool water is clean? ›

Best Ways to Test Pool Water

The two most popular ways of testing pool chemicals are pool test strips and pool testing kits. Whether you use a kit or a strip, it should measure chlorine and pH levels. These measurements show two of your pool's most important chemical readings.

How do you know if water is safe or unsafe? ›

A change in your water's taste, color, or smell is not necessarily a health concern. However, sometimes a change can be a sign of problems. If you notice a change in your water, call your public water system company.

What are the symptoms of swimming in contaminated water? ›

A lot of germs that live in water cause stomach and intestinal upset. These can bring diarrhea or vomiting. You can also get skin rashes, ear or eye pain, and a cough or congestion after swimming in contaminated waters.

How to test if water is contaminated with sewage? ›

A WQI test is a test that measures the presence and amount of certain germs in water. In most cases, the presence of WQIs is not the cause of sickness; however, they are easy to test for and their presence may indicate the presence of sewage and other disease-causing germs from human and/or animal feces.

What bodies of water are safe to swim in? ›

Swimming in lakes, rivers and oceans can be safe and fun at a designated swimming area that is protected by lifeguards. However, if these elements are not in place, always assume that any natural body of water is too dangerous for swimming.

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