Summer Water Safety

Enjoy Your Summer: Employ Layers of Protection

Grandma’s Pool “KC & Livi”By Kimberlee Mitchell, National Child Safety Expert

By Kimberlee Mitchell, National Child Safety Expert

Summer is my favorite time of year!  Growing up in Southern California I remember the warm and shoeless days of endless playtime
and exploring the sandy beaches with my sister. I now split summer vacation between the west coast and my husband’s native Michigan, where the days are even longer and beautiful lakes are around every corner ready for swimming, boating, exploring, turtle catching, you name
Summer is a magical time for family fun. It’s also a perfect time for professionals like me to bring a few things to light so that the beauty of this season isn’t eclipsed with unthinkable heartache.
So why, when things should be free and easy during the lazy days of summer do so many families have to visit the ER?  So much so, ER docs have dubbed summer as “trauma season” because of the spiking peak in unintentional injuries during these months.  Is it because we relax too much? Or perhaps it’s because children encounter more safety hazards during summer free-play than they do in the safe confines of the classroom and school playground.  Our natural draw to bodies of water during these high temperature months without
doubt raises the danger risk.
Babies, in particular, find water irresistible and this innocent fascination can turn ugly fast.
It takes only seconds to drown, and often occurs silently; not the thrashing around hollering “help” like you see in the movies.  I know because I saw my own daughter fall into a pool at the age of 3 as she reached for a floating toy in her grandma’s pool.  My baby slipped in quietly without a peep and once in the water she didn’t move a muscle floating helplessly a couple inches below the surface.  My mother in law was already in the pool, about 8 feet away and calmly told me, “I’ve got her” and swam to my child.  With my infant child in my arms standing on the pool deck, I had a bird’s eye view as this terrifying sight played out before me in, what seemed like, slow motion.  In the water, my daughter stayed calm, still, helpless and oddly, somewhat peaceful looking.  She made no attempt to swim or even move even though her eyes were open and I saw her looking around!  With oxygen a mere 2 inches above her head she floated perpendicular to the surface with her arms straight out from her sides — a sight forever burned into my memory.  She didn’t have a clue about what to do.  Thankfully, moments later I was holding my terrified, but thankfully breathing, little girl.  The child vomited water, cried, prayed aloud like a Southern Baptist and then she cried some more.  It went from dead calm quiet to very, very loud cries from both of us!
An estimated heart-wrenching 260 children under five years of age drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas, according to the CPSC. The Commission estimates that another 3,000 children under age five are treated in hospital emergency rooms following submersion accidents each year. Some of these submersion accidents result in permanent brain damage.  Nationally, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death to children under five. In some states such as California, Florida and Arizona, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death to children under five.
It seems so black and white.  If you have a pool, put up a fence.  But there are many variables that make for some very ugly stats.  It’s those variables that cause the trips to the ER.  NOTE: Little ones are creative explorers and have been known to crawl out doggy doors to get to the pool. If a child is immersed under water for a few minutes they have a high probability for irreversible brain damage.
So what’s the best ADVICE I can give about water safety? Employ as Many as Layers of Protection as Possible
Water Safety TIP #1:
Never leave the child unattended in or around water.
  • Avoid the most common drowning hazard and have a pool fence, cover or net installed over all pools and spas.
  • Place tables and chairs well away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing into the pool area.
  • When swimming with a baby or small child always keep them within arm’s reach and employ
    “touch supervision” and PAY ATTENTION. NOTE: Being engrossed in a conversation with someone while “watching your
    child” can be very dangerous.
  • DOORS AND GATES leading to the pool area should be self-closing, locked and alarmed.
  • Install a MOTION ALARM in the pool and spa area. Install house alarms – the ones that beep every time someone opens a door or window in your home so you are aware of people coming and going at all times.
  • When having a pool party hire a LIFEGUARD. If that’s not possible, appoint a “DESIGNATED CHILD WATCHER” to constantly observe the children and make them wear a “WATER WATCHER” tag.  If that person can’t watch the kids in the water anymore for whatever reason, they must pass the responsibility and the tag to another adult.  Adults become preoccupied when socializing and/or often assume someone else is watching the kids.
  • Do not consider children “water safe” just because they have had swimming lessons. THERE ARE NO WATER SAFE CHILDREN. Kids lack the maturity level for sound judgment. Fun is their motivation and a pool is fun; unfortunately, it is also dangerous.
  • NO ONE SHOULD EVER SWIM ALONE. Teach your children to use the buddy system. Since children learn by example, parents should follow these safety tips as well.
  • TOYS AND GAMES should not be stored in or near the pool. The attraction of toys near the pool is much too inviting for children; they will try to grab it and fall in.
  • Remove steps to above ground pools when not in use.
  • LEARN CPR. Anyone responsible for children including grandparents, siblings, and baby
    sitters should know CPR. Post CPR instructions near the pool. Contact your local Red Cross for training information.
  • Keep rescue equipment by the pool.
  • Have phone by pool in the event of an emergency.
Boating Safety Tips: Life Jackets Save Lives
Marrying a Michigander (Michigan native) introduced me to the lake boating world.  My kids love it too and know that their life jackets are as mandatory as a swimsuit– no exceptions.  Oddly, I see alot of families who don’t follow the same practices, which is irresponsible and in many states illegal. Life jackets are as integral to boating safety as car seats are to car safety.  Forty-five states have enacted laws that require children to wear life jackets while participating in recreational boating. These laws vary in age requirements, exemptions and enforcement procedures.
  • Recreational boats must carry one appropriately sized life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for each person onboard
  • Life jackets must be kept accessible and in good condition.
  • Children need to wear child-sized life jackets; make sure they are available.
  • The US Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center has more information on this and other requirements.
The Pool Safely campaign is a national public education effort by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and it partners with leading organizations, including American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, Safe Kids USA, National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), World Waterpark Association (WWA), and Abbey’s Hope. For more information, visit the website at or follow the campaign on Twitter @poolsafely.

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