Hanging out with friends, splashing, paddling, swimming, and wading can be a lot of fun at the pool, lake or creek. And, playing at a water park or at the beach can be a lot of fun, too, especially on a really hot day.

But, you always need to be aware of the dangers of drowning. Even children (and adults) who know how to swim and are good swimmers can drown, so let's look at how you and your children can be safe while having fun around water.

The importance of water safety
While fish and some reptiles are able to breathe under water, humans are air breathers. People can drown when too much water fills their lungs. When this happens, their lungs can't get oxygen into their blood stream, and so not enough oxygen gets to the brain and to the body.

The second leading cause of death in children ages 14 and under is drowning. The startling thing about drowning is that it can happen so quickly, and can happen in as little as two minutes after a child goes under water. This leaves very little time to get them help.

Many times a drowning (or near drowning) occurs is when a child accidentally falls into a pool or body of water. These types of accidents can almost happen at anytime and anywhere. It can occur at your own home, a neighbor's, or a friend's house, so this is why it is important that you and your children need to be safe when around water.

Swimming pool safety
I think everyone will agree that swimming pools are a lot of fun! What better way to enjoy fun in the sun, then a dip in the pool? Just remember that it's very important to note that the bottom and sides of a pool are generally made of cement and are very hard surfaces. If someone were to fall around a pool, the consequences could be painful.

Have you ever noticed the large numbers (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and so on) usually painted on the side of the pool? These are markers and they tell you how deep the water is. You should always look at the depth markers where you are entering the pool, whether it be diving, jumping or climbing into a pool. You should also take note before going off of a diving board as well. Do not dive off of the side of a pool unless an adult says that it is deep enough. The water may not be as deep as you might think and you may hit the bottom of the pool. You could literally break your neck, knock yourself out, or other serious injury could occur.

Be sure to test the temperature of the pool's water before you get into it. Your body could be shocked by cold water and make your heart rate and blood pressure go up. You could open your mouth to scream for help and accidentally take in water. Muscles can cramp and move very slow when they are suddenly submerged in cold water, making it very difficult to swim to safety.

Here are some other swimming pool rules:

  • Always have an adult watch you while you are at the pool, even at your own pool. Never go in the pool if there is no adult present. Always tell a lifeguard or an adult if there is an emergency at the pool.
  • Most pools have gates around them because they are meant to keep children out, especially when there is no lifeguard or adults around. You should never go into any pool area when the pool is closed, regardless of whether or not you can squeeze through the gates. Keep out and stay safe.
  • Every pool has rules that will help keep you safe. Obey these rules.
  • Never swim alone. Take a buddy.
  • If you are still learning to swim, or have not yet had lessons, make sure that an adult has tested the flotation devices and that they are Coast Guard approved.
  • Do not run when you are inside the gates of the pool. Walk slowly, carefully and pay attention to where you are.
  • While in the pool, swim at a depth that is safe for you. If you do not know how to swim or you are a beginning swimmer, then stay in the shallow end (the end with the smallest number).
  • Do not jump on or push other swimmers. You may end up hurting someone or hurting yourself.
  • Water toys such as inner tubes, beach balls, air mattresses, etc., are just toys, and cannot be counted on to save a life. While they are fun, they can lose air and float away from you.
  • Do not have gum in your mouth or eat while you are swimming, as it puts you at risk for choking.

Lake and pond safety
You will need to extra care when swimming in beautiful places such as lakes and ponds. You cannot generally see the bottom or be able to know the depth of the water. And, these are good reasons for you to make sure you always swim with an adult.

Even though the fishes swimming in the water around you usually will not hurt you, sometimes there are hidden dangers in lakes and ponds such as trash that has been dumped in the water or broken glass. Always wear something on your feet. Watch out for grass and weeds which can trap even the best pf swimmers if they are not careful. Should you get tangled up remember to stay calm, as panicking may cause you to get even more tangled up. You should call for a lifeguard or an adult's help and try to slowly twist and turn your legs are arms free.

Always wear a life jacket when you go out onto a boat. The life jacket should be Coast Guard approved. Should something happen to the boat and it flips over or you fall out unexpectedly, a life jacket could be the difference between survival and drowning.

Beach safety
Who doesn't love going to the beach! You'll still need to know a few safety tips before swimming in an ocean, or large body of water. Swimming in the ocean is much different than a pool, lake or creek. Oceans have waves and currents which can change rapidly, as well become very overpowering. When you arrive at the beach, talk to a lifeguard to see how strong the waves are that day. Some beaches use flags or write on a board information for swimmers so that they will know the conditions of the waters.

Strong waves can knock you off of your feet or push you down to the ocean's floor in an instant. So stay lose to an adult(s) or get out of the ocean when you feel the waves are getting strong. Another area that can cause more problems in the water is when people panic or they become tired while swimming. The ocean is big and powerful and swimming in it takes a lot more strength and endurance then swimming in a pool. You should be careful and know your limitations. When you start to feel tired, get out of the water and rest. The ocean will be there later.

Swimmers can run into strong ocean currents or undertows. Rip currents, also referred to as riptides, are so strong that it's possible that they can carry swimmers really far away from the shore before they realize what has happened. Should you get caught in such a current, you should swim parallel with the shore instead of toward the shore, until the water stops pulling on you. Then swim diagonally back to shore. If you are unable to swim back to the beach, then you should tread in the water and wave at the lifeguard for help. It is especially important not to panic in this situation. Stay calm.

The chance are you will not run into any sharks while swimming, though you may encounter a friendly dolphin or two. The potential is greater that you may see some jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-wars. These creatures are umbrella-shaped, are almost clear, and can grow to as large as several feet in diameter. They are usually found floating near the shore. But, be very careful, you can get stung by them, even if they are washed up on the beach. Should you get stung, it will hurt and can blister. Let an adult know as soon as possible.

Here are some other rules worth noting:

  • Don't swim by yourself, ever!
  • Make sure you always swim where you can be seen by at least one lifeguard.
  • Swim in area that are specifically marked for swimming.
  • Wear protective footwear.
  • Be mindful of how far you are swimming from shore. Do not swim too far out.
  • Never fake like you are drowning. Lifeguards take that seriously.
  • Do not swim close to piers because if the water moves quickly you could thrown into the pier or rock pile.
  • Always use plastic containers for drinks while at the beach. Broken glass is dangerous.
  • Keep turned toward the waves so that you can see what is coming at you.

Water park safety
Everyone loves water parks! They offer lots of fun with squirting fountains, giant slides, and wave pools. For your safety, you should see what each attraction is like, and how deep the water is for each ride. Some attractions are more tame then others, so it's always a good idea to be near an adult.

Here are a few tips for water park safety:

  • If you don't know how to swim, are still learning to swim, or the ride recommends it, wear a life jacket.
  • Make sure you take time to read all of the signs about the ride you are wanting to go onto. You will need to know if you are old enough, as well as tall enough. And, make sure that you do not have any medical conditions that would prevent you from going on the attraction. Should you have any questions, make sure to ask a water park staff member, lifeguard, or parent/guardian.
  • Make sure that a lifeguard is available at each attraction. Be sure to follow their instructions. You will need to wait until the person ahead of you on a slide has passed a safe point before your turn. If you don't know when that point is, ask a water park staff or lifeguard.
  • The safest and correct way to go down a water slide is always feet first and face up.
  • Remember, when you go from attraction to attraction that the ground will be wet, so be careful and do not run! Each rides rules and information may be different, so make sure you read the signs.

So, you already know how to swim!
You should know what your limitations are when swimming and just playing in the water. Your muscles could cramp up on you (a sudden intense pain in a muscle or muscles) or another physical problem could happen, making it very difficult for you to swim. If you cramp up, get yourself out of the water for a bit, hydrate your body and rest your muscles.

Here are some more water safety tips:

  • Learning to swim is a very good life skill. Ask your parents/guardians to contact the American Red Cross or your local community center for information.
  • Always wear plenty of sunscreen when you are going to be outside, even if it is a cloudy day. In addition, sunglasses and hats help to protect you from the sun.
  • Hydrate! Drink lots of water (and fluids) when you are outside.
  • As soon as you see or hear a storm approaching, stop swimming/boating and get to shore. Lightning is electricity, and a very dangerous mix with water.
  • Never swim in the dark
  • Get into the water slowly, checking the temperature to make sure it is not too cold. If the water is too cold, get out immediately, as it would not be safe to swim in due to the potential for muscle cramping.
  • Never swallow water or let it run through your mouth. Germs and bacteria may be in the water and it can give you diarrhea or other sickness. Shower off before you go into the water, and then again after you have finished swimming. Always wash your hands after using the restroom. Do not go swimming if you are sick.
  • Whenever you go swimming, remember safety first, and have a great swim!