What would summer be without swimming? There really are few better ways to beat the heat than to take a dip in a pool, the lake or – perhaps, even better – the ocean. In fact, there’s a very good chance you’ve probably already spent some time swimming this summer. However, swimming safety is something many of us take for granted. We assume that, if we can swim, all will be well. But, that isn’t always the case. Drowning and other injuries still can occur regardless of your swimming ability, which is why it’s always good to remember some general water safety tips.
Blount Memorial Hospital director of safety Carole Chambers says drowning is the second-most-common cause of death from injuries among children under age 14. “Drowning can happen so fast — sometimes in less than two minutes after a person's head goes under water, which leaves very little time for someone to help,” she said. “One important area to always be safe is the swimming pool. Of course, pools can be great fun. What’s better than a dip in the pool on a hot summer day? It’s important to remember, however, that a pool's sides and bottom usually are made of concrete, making a slip or fall painful and dangerous. You always should look before you jump into a pool, and only dive off the diving board. Never dive off the side of the pool unless sure that the water is deep enough. The water may be shallower than you think, and if you hit the bottom, you might be badly injured. Remember to test the pool's water temperature before you plunge in. Cold water can shock your body and make your blood pressure and heart rate go up,” she explained. “Cold water also can slow your muscles, making it hard to swim,” she added.
When it comes to lakes, many of the safety tips for pools still are valid; however there are a few additions. “As for fresh water lakes and ponds, remember that some ponds and lakes may hide jagged rocks, broken bottles or trash, so you always should wear something to protect your feet,” Chambers said. “Also, watch out for weeds and grass, which can trap even a good swimmer. If you panic and try to yank yourself free, you may get even more tangled. Instead, shake and pull your arms and legs slowly to work yourself loose, and call for help,” she explained. “If you're going out on a boat, always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Even if you are a good swimmer, something could cause the boat to tip over, trapping you underneath,” she added.
“Swimming in the ocean is trickier than the pool because of waves and currents, which can change,” Chambers explained. “When you first get to the beach, check with the lifeguard to find out how strong the waves are. Some places fly flags or write notes on a chalkboard to give swimmers an idea of what conditions are like each day. Waves can knock you down or push you to the ocean floor so stay close, and get out of the water when the waves get rough. People also get into trouble when they start to panic or become too tired to swim. It's important to know your limits, so if you start feeling tired, get out of the water and rest for a while. In some places, swimmers may run into strong undertows or ocean currents. Rip currents – also called riptides – are so strong that they can carry swimmers away from shore before they know what's happening. Remember, if you are caught in a current, swim parallel to the shore rather than toward the shore. When the water stops pulling you, you should be able to swim diagonally back to shore. If you can't get back to the beach, tread water and wave for a lifeguard's help,” she said. “In this situation, it's really important to stay calm and not panic,” she added.