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June 11, 2021

It’s Time to Remember Safe-Swimming Rules

The weather has only just heated up, but sadly, Massachusetts has seen more than its share of tragedy at its beaches and pools this year. Five drownings have been reported in the first week of June alone. It’s an important time to remember some basic water safety precautions.

“For toddlers, most drownings happen when it’s not even swim time,” says Andrew Old, MD, chief of emergency medicine at Saint Anne’s Hospital. “They happen when a toddler accidentally wanders off without any supervision.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports drowning is the number one cause of injury-related deaths in children ages 1 to 4. They advise that an adult should always be within arm’s reach of a toddler to supervise swimming.  

Dr. Old emphasizes the need for physical barriers like fences, and self-closing gates with locks or latches that kids can’t reach. He also points out the need for constant supervision.

“Most toddler drownings happen when no one is watching. If you need a break or get distracted, it’s so important to hand off supervision to someone else who understands that it’s their responsibility to watch and supervise,” Dr. Old says.  If you’re the “water watcher,” here’s what the AAP advises:

  • Put down your cell phone
  • Avoid other activities
  • Supervise even if there are lifeguards
  • Switch off with another adult for breaks

Be on the lookout for other drowning hazards that might not be as obvious as a pool or pond. Bathtubs, toilets, and buckets full of water have all played a role in toddler drownings. Always supervise bath time, install a latch on your toilet, and empty water buckets after use.

Safety for Older Kids and Adults
Toddlers aren’t the only ones at risk for drowning. Older children, teens, and adults can also take steps to prevent tragedy from striking.

“Swim lessons are an important way to reduce your risk, but not all bodies of water are the same,” Dr. Old says. “Swimming in a pool is very different from an ocean or river with strong, fast-moving currents. Even an experienced swimmer can struggle in these conditions.”

Here are 10 important rules to remember:

  1. Never swim alone.  Always swim with a buddy.
  2. Wear a life vest whenever you’re taking part in activities in open water, like boating or kayaking, water skiing, or tubing.
  3. Don’t swim at beaches with large waves, strong currents, or no lifeguards on duty.
  4. Always follow swim warnings posted at public beaches.
  5. Always jump in feet first, especially in shallow or unfamiliar waters.
  6. Know your limits.
  7. Remember distance can be deceiving in the water. A floating dock or nearby island may look a lot closer than it really is.
  8. Avoid risky behavior.
  9. Avoid swimming when impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  10. Take swim lessons from a qualified instructor.

For more on water safety and drowning prevention, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.