Summer Fun and Water Safety
Monday, July 01, 2013

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel

Summer officially began on June 20th, and in South Jersey that means one thing: head for the water! Whether you choose to relax by the pool, on the sand or in a boat, water safety should always be a consideration. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drowning is the sixth leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages, and the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14. Here are some tips from your family doctor to help keep you and your loved ones safe this summer.

  • Wear appropriate protective gear. According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics on boating accidents, 90 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets. Properly sized, Coast Guard-approved life jackets are widely available and should be worn by all boat passengers regardless of swimming ability, distance of travel or boat size. ‘Water wings’ and other inflatable flotation devices are NOT a substitute for a life jacket.
  • Always supervise children around water. Adults who are supervising should not be involved in any other activity (such as reading, playing cards, or talking on the phone) while children are in the water. For preschool-aged children, an adult should always be within “touch distance,”, or close enough to reach the child immediately. Older children and adults should never swim alone.
  • Provide adequate preparation for water activities.  A 2009 study published in The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine revealed that participation in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning by 88% among children aged 1 to 4 years. Swift intervention can make a difference in drowning victims, so adults and adolescents should educate themselves on basic life support in the event of an emergency.
  • Employ safety barriers around swimming pools. If you have a swimming pool at home, surround it with four-sided barriers at least 48 inches tall. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches out of children’s reach. When not in use, keep the swimming deck free of toys and flotation devices that make the pool area more attractive to children.
  • Do not mix alcohol and water activities. Alcohol use is involved in up to half of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation and about one in five reported boating fatalities. Alcohol impacts a person’s balance, coordination and judgment -- and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.
  • Know the forecast before swimming or boating on natural bodies of water, as thunderstorms and lightning can pose a serious risk. Be aware of the signs of a rip tide: water that is discolored and choppy, foamy, or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore. If you find yourself caught in a rip current, do not struggle against the tide; rather, swim parallel to the shore until you are free of the current, then swim toward shore.

Time at the shore or by the pool can be safe and fun if you keep these tips in mind. Here’s to a wonderful summer!

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856-384-0210.