With summer officially here, it’s hard not to get excited for pool parties, beach cookouts, and lakeside retreats, just as soon as we’re allowed again. But until then, it’s time for us to do our due diligence when it comes to being around water.
Ready for a sobering statistic?
Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for American children between the ages of 1-14. Children between the ages of 1-4, and especially American Indian, Alaska Native, and African American children, are at a heightened risk of drowning.
So if drowning is such a big problem, why don’t we hear about it more? Pamela Baldwin, water awareness advocate and founder of the W.A.T.E.R Ambassador Program, says the silence comes from shame.
“It’s the one thing that I’ve found, while researching, that seems to be the underlying tone,” she says. “No one is 100% aware all the time, but shame and guilt have kept people from talking about it.”
It’s time to break the stigma around this silent killer, and it starts with education. To protect the most vulnerable among us, there are five basic practices that Baldwin has created for water awareness.
1 | Supervision
Drowning can happen within seconds, and proper supervision prevents a minor mishap from getting serious. If you’re throwing a backyard barbecue or pool party, hire a professional lifeguard or designate adults to supervise in turn. Scheduling breaks is important so lifeguards don’t get fatigued and oversaturated.
2 | Additional barriers
If you have a pool at home, it should have at least one kind of barrier to prevent unsupervised entry. This is crucial because supervision alone will not prevent drowning. 69% of children under five who drowned were not expected to be by the water, and most were being supervised by at least one adult. Barriers can look like pool covers, self-latching gates, and door alert systems announcing which door has been opened. Each state has its own regulations, and states like California have recently updated pool safety regulations. When it comes to barriers, Baldwin recommends having two. “If you only have the means for one, the self-latching, self-closing gate is priority,” she states. “No one can be 100% aware, so why not get the infrastructure in place to protect against those times.”
3 | Proper swim skills
Many of us see swimming as a leisure activity or extracurricular sport, but it’s an essential skill. Do you know how to swim? Do your family members know how to swim? If you think it’s too early to teach a child swimming, think again. Children can begin swimming lessons as early as one, becoming proficient swimmers by age three or four. “The ability to swim is a life-saving skill and can be the difference between control and panic in the pool,” Baldwin warns, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees, referencing recent studies that show reduced drowning risk.
4 | Chaos-free zone
Having a chaos-free zone means giving everything a place. Pool towels, sunscreen, and other water essentials should be handy for you to grab without leaving the area, however, it’s best to keep toys in a designated place away from the pool. Baldwin says, “This can keep little hands away from the pool when it’s not pool time, reducing the risk of unsupervised water time.”
5 | Emergency equipment
If an emergency does occur, it’s important that you have life-saving equipment and the skillset to use the equipment. A few tools to get familiar with are the Shepherd’s Crook and the Ring Buoy. Practice using them or hire a professional to teach you proper technique. Another important essential? CPR training. Knowing CPR can bridge the gap between when an accident happens and when medical personnel come. It’s a crucial skill in general, but especially for anyone supervising children.
If any of these water awareness precautions seem excessive, remember the stats. Nobody enjoys these bleak statistics, but the untold stories are important enough for us to implement change. The ultimate goal is for us and our loved ones to enjoy water and do it safely. It’s time to spread water awareness this summer, so let’s dive in.