This is a three part series on water safety. Having over 20 years of experience as a lifeguard, water safety instructor, and swim coach. I’d like to share some simple ways to be safe around water. Since we live with bodies of water all around us and many of us have pools, we want to make sure our families aren’t afraid of water, but rather can comfortably and safely enjoy it. Spring is time to clean out that pool and get the family swimming. But, first it’s time to start learning or reviewing water safety.
Role playing emergencies together as a family is a great, fun way to learn water safety. One person will be the swimmer in distress (above water, but cannot make forward progress) or drowning victim (struggling to keep above water or are under water) while another person performs the rescue. Many different scenarios could be tried. If these are practiced throughout the season, everyone should feel confident about their skills and be less likely to panic in an emergency. Some equipment for rescues that could be available in the pool area are:
1. Shepherd’s Crook– those long poles with a big hook at the end. They come in 8 foot and 16 foot lengths and are used to reach out and scoop around a swimmer in distress and bring them safely back to the side of the pool. They are probably too heavy for young children to use, but they would work well for use by an adult or teenager.
2. Rescue Tube– this is a thick foam tube you’ve probably seen lifeguards holding. These hang around one shoulder to opposite side waist and are crucial for rescuing bigger victims who may be going under water or are at the bottom of the pool. Rescue tubes should only be used by someone trained to use them. Lifeguard training starts at age 15, however, Outdoor Gulf Coast’s Stingray’s Swim Club offers introductory lifeguard training for individuals ages 12 to 15.
3. Noodles and Kickboards– these are not just toys and exercise equipment; they make great rescue tools as well. These are light enough for children to use. Kids love to practice helping each other by using the noodles to reach out to a “swimmer in distress”. Kickboards that are used for exercise may also be tossed out to a tired swimmer.
4. Yourself– children should never jump in the water after a friend, however, they can throw equipment to them. If the friend is close enough, they could enter the water at the side ladder and hold onto it while stretching out their feet for grabbing hold of. One important rule for children is “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go!”
5. Heaving Jug– a fun project to do with your kids is to make your own piece of rescue equipment out of a milk jug and rope. You just take a gallon milk jug with a screw on cap and fill it half full with water. Next, glue on the lid. Then, tie a lightweight rope of 30 or so feet onto the jug. You may also want to create a safety post out of wood or pvc next to your pool. This is the place to hang your jug and other equipment as well as a place to keep a first aid kit. You may also want this to be a place to hang the pool rules such as “no diving”, “no running”, “swim with a buddy”, “reach or throw, don’t go”.
Everyone in the family should learn water safety when you have a family pool in your yard. While it is good to have rescue equipment, pool alarms and life jackets available, those aren’t all we need. Emergencies can arise with the best of swimmers, so it’s really important to know the signs of a swimmer in need of help and also how to respond. The only time not to move a victim with rescue equipment is if they get a head, neck or back injury. This is when you immediately call 911.
Parents or family members can help teach young children how to feel comfortable around water and even teach them how to float and swim by getting in the water with them. There are also several facilities in the area that offer structured swim lessons by trained professionals. The first basic skill learned is to learn how to float. Also, check out infant swimming rescue for children ages 6 months and up.
Be prepared this year and have fun in your pool!