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9 Water Safety Tips Every Parent Needs to Know

Board-certified pediatric emergency physician Ronnie Waldrop, MD, and nurse Erin Rovelli, RN, serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital, Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

With summer in full swing, we’re all looking for ways to stay cool. Whether your family enjoys a dip in the pool, day at the beach or plunge into the lake, water safety should be at the top of your mind.

Drowning is the third leading cause of death from unintentional injury worldwide. In the United States, it is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children ages 1 to 14. More than 25% of drowning victims die, and up to one-third of survivors sustain moderate to severe brain injuries.

Drowning can happen anywhere. Children under 5 in urban areas are most likely to drown in swimming pools, while those in rural locales are most likely to experience water accidents in lakes, ponds and ditches. An infant can drown in under 5 minutes of being submerged, and in as little as a bucket of water.

The main factors that increase an individual’s risk of drowning include:

  • Location
  • Inability to swim
  • Unsupervised swimming
  • Inadequate barriers preventing unsupervised water access
  • Failure to wear appropriate flotation devices

You don’t have to be afraid of the water, as long as you’re prepared. Keep these 9 tips in mind to stay safe while you splash:

  1. Learn CPR. CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and reduce the likelihood of serious injuries in drowning victims.
  2. Keep a Close Eye. Designate a responsible adult to watch children swimming or playing in or around water. If you’re watching preschool-age kids, stay close enough to reach them at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, those responsible for supervising children should not be distracted by activities, such as reading or using a cell phone. Whenever possible, choose swimming sites that have lifeguards on duty for an extra set of eyes.
  3. Pair Up. Encourage children and teenagers to always swim with a buddy instead of diving in solo.
  4. Build Fences. If you have a pool at home, separate the pool area from the house and yard. The fence should be at least 4 feet high. Opt for self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward. Latches should be out of reach of children.
  5. Consider Additional Barriers. If you have a pool, automatic door locks can prevent access to the pool. Alarms can alert you if someone enters the pool area.
  6. Clear Out Toys. Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
  7. Know the Signs. Many public beaches or lakes use colored warning flags or signs to alert visitors to different swimming conditions. Check with local authorities and review posted signs to understand – and heed – warning flags before entering the water.
  8. Watch for Waves and Rip Currents. Rip currents are powerful channels of water that can sweep even strong swimmers out to sea. Avoid swimming if the surf is discolored and choppy, foamy or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore. If you encounter a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you’re free, then swim diagonally toward shore.
  9. Learn to Swim. Swim lessons for children over age 4 decrease the risk of drowning. For younger children, it’s not clear whether lessons can reduce drowning risk. While lessons teach young kids basic swimming skills, they might also make little ones feel overconfident in the water. Even if your child has had formal lessons, you should always supervise them closely around water.

If your child has had a water incident or near-drowning event, make sure to monitor them closely. Complications can arise hours after rescue. If you notice confusion, coughing, wheezing, exhaustion, difficulty breathing or use of the abdominal muscles to breathe, have your child evaluated immediately by your pediatrician or an emergency room physician.

Think you’re ready to hit the beach? Take our swim safety quiz to find out.

Learn about the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital, an ER specially designed to care for children and adolescents.

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