6 safety tips to know before taking a dip

Experienced water safety experts weigh in on what parents miss when it comes to pool and beach safety

July 11, 2015

From holding-breath games to tides at the beach – there are a bunch of things that can risk your child’s safety in the water. As compiled from Reader’s Digest and Health magazine, experienced water safety experts weigh in on what parents miss when it comes to pool and beach safety.

Floaties don’t always keep a child afloat

A rule of thumb: don’t float where you can’t swim. Not only can floaties slip off, they can give children a false sense of confidence in their swimming abilities. For young children or inexperienced swimmers, parents must invest in a secure life jacket. When the life jacket is on, there should be no extra space above the arm openings, so it doesn’t cover your child’s face in the water. “We still want parents to be very closely watching their kids whenever they’re in the water,” says Michael Creegan, aquatics director at the YMCA in New York. He adds, “Beginner swimmers should stay in water that’s up to their chest in depth or shallower, even if they have a life jacket on.”

Stop the holding-breath games

Who can hold their breath longer under water? It’s an everyday pool dare, but also a high risk game. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued a report linking underwater breath holding to fatal drowning incidents. Shallow-water blackout is loss of consciousness from intentionally restraining from breathing underwater, usually on the shallow end of the pool. “Kids often overexert themselves and pass out underwater,” says Pete DeQuincy, aquatics manager at East Bay Regional Park District in California. We hear of such fatal incidents all the time, and most people don’t know the cause of or consequences of shallow-water blackouts.

Read: Cost of a dip: Swimming in open water poses threat to health

Parents, please put the phone away

Call it a disruption or a means of communication, but cell phone use appears to come off as second nature to most of us. “The phone is the biggest distraction we have,” says DeQuincy.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that injuries involving swimming pools climbed 36 per cent in children under five years old between 2007 and 2010, a time period in which adult smartphone use also skyrocketed. Though the association does not prove that phones were solely responsible, keep the phone down and stay alert to help keep your child safe at the pool or beach.

Treat swimming like a soccer tournament

Contrary to popular belief, swimming can be as exhausting as any other sport. In fact, more so, since weight and lung function is altered under water. Have your children take breaks every two hours to rest, reapply sunscreen, and make sure they have a snack. Opposite to common belief, lifeguards say it’s perfectly safe to swim after eating. Avoid junk food at the concession stand, and instead pack snacks that you would take to a cricket game, such as fruit, trail mix, and sports drinks with electrolytes.

Read: Pictures: As temperatures rise, people take a dip

Beware of a ‘clean pool’ smell

“Generally, if a facility has that strong, funky chlorine odour, it’s not actually the chlorine you smell,” says Creegan. “It’s a byproduct that builds up from contact with sweat and urine in the water. In a well-run pool, you’re never going to have that odour.” It’s why locker room signs ask guests to shower before jumping in: your skin carries natural oils, makeup and different forms of dirt. All of these bodily elements contain nitrogen, which mixes with the pool’s chlorine and forms chemical irritants that give off that “pool” smell. These irritants may trigger asthma attacks and skin irritation in some children and adults.

Observe the water at the beach

Murky water is often a sign that there’s a rip current beneath the surface. “A rip current often occurs because there’s a break in the sand bar,” says Tom Gill, public information officer for the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) and a lifeguard in Virginia Beach. “A large area of the water will look darker and sometimes foamy – that’s the current.” A rip current, which can occur at any time, even in knee-deep water, can carry even strong swimmers away from the shore. Teach children how to react if they get caught in a rip current. Rip currents don’t pull people under water, but away from shore; drowning occurs when people can’t stay afloat or return to shore because of exhaustion or lack in swimming skills. Remain calm and float until you can escape the current by swimming horizontally to the shoreline.

By Umnia Shahid

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.

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