This post is sponsored in partnership with Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen Program. All opinions are my own.
Living in South Florida, we are surrounded by water. Forget the fact that the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico surround us, but in most neighborhoods, there are pools, lakes, canals or even ponds. Open water safety is a MUST!
Did you know that most children in the U.S. drown in open water? This includes natural bodies of water (lakes, rivers, oceans) as well as man-made bodies of water (canals, reservoirs, retention ponds). THAT IS CRAZY!
Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen program partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide on a report highlighting the realities and hidden dangers associated with swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans and other bodies of open water. Through the research, Make Safe Happen found that in 2016, open water drownings made up 43 percent of fatal childhood drownings, compared to 38 percent in pools, 9 percent in bathtubs and 10 percent unspecified. Additionally, they learned that drowning is the number one cause of injury death for children 1-4 years of age.
My Personal Story
One spring break, I traveled to Mexico with my mom and sister for a “girls getaway.” As someone who has been around water my whole life, I didn’t think much about the safety precautions that come with swimming in the ocean. I mean, I was an avid swimmer…what could go wrong?
My sister and I decided to take a “dip” in ocean…a routine adventure when going to the beach. We were swimming and keeping an eye on the shore to make sure we weren’t drifting, when all of a sudden we approached an undertow. Scariest moment of my life. Since we weren’t children anymore, we knew that we had to swim parallel to the shore until we could come out of it. It felt as if we were swimming forever and I began to get tired. I was giving up. I felt myself going under with my sister screaming for me not to give up.
Luckily, some local surfers saw us struggling and came to our rescue. They rescued us and brought us safely to shore.
I can’t imagine that experience if I was a child. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or skill to have endured that event. That’s why open water safety is so important to not only practice but to teach our children as well. The more prepared we are, the safer our children will be around water.
5 Hidden Hazards of Open Water
It is important for families to be aware of the following hidden hazards when children are in or around open water:
- Limited Visibility – Water in lakes and ponds can be murky, hiding hazards such as rocks, logs, and uneven surfaces. Limited visibility can also make it difficult to see if a child falls in. If lifeguards are present, ask about the safest area to swim. When entering unfamiliar water, go in feet first and wade out slowly.
- Depth, Distance, and Drop-offs – Unlike a pool, open water rarely has depth markings, making it difficult to know if kids are getting into water that is over their heads. When swimming in open water, it can also be hard to perceive distance from the shore. Additionally, while there may be a gradual slope as you enter the water near shore, there might be a sudden drop-off further out. When looking for safe place to swim, choose a designated swimming area and check for signs warning about potential hazards.
- Currents and Tides – Currents in rivers, creeks, and streams can be fast-moving and unpredictable. While some strong currents such as rapids are visible, others can flow under the water’s surface. In oceans or lakes, waves and rip currents can be dangerous. Families should avoid swimming at unsupervised beaches or in areas not designated for swimming. Before allowing kids to swim in open water, make sure they know how to deal with a crashing wave and escape a rip tide or strong current.
- Water Temperature – Open water is usually colder than water in a pool, which can affect a child’s swimming ability. What’s more, falling into cold water can result in shock, which can lead to panic and even drowning. When participating in boating or other recreational water activities, families should remember to dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature, and to always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
- Weather and Seasonal Differences – Changes in the weather can make open water more hazardous. Heavy rains and flooding can create strong currents and rapidly change the depth and clarity of the water. Families should also be aware of man-made storm channels and reservoirs that can be empty one minute and full of water the next. If you are planning an outing that involves open water, check the weather and water conditions before you leave home and again when you arrive. Stay alert for changes while you are on site and always stay out of the water if you hear thunder or see lightning.
Open Water Safety Tips
How can parents ensure their children are safe around bodies of open water like oceans, rivers, and lakes? The following tips highlight important actions that can reduce the risk of drowning for families looking to participate in activities in or on open water.
- Use designated swimming and recreational areas whenever possible. Professionals have assessed the area and there are usually signs posted regarding hazards and lifeguard schedules.
- Watch kids when they are in or around water. Keep young children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach of an adult. Make sure older children swim with a partner every time.
- Make sure children learn to swim. Every child is different, so enroll children in swim lessons when they are ready.
- Use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around open water. Get a life jacket (called a personal floatation device) that is appropriate for a child’s weight and the water activity.
- Learn water rescue skills and CPR. It is important to know how to respond in an emergency without putting yourself at risk. Learning basic rescue skills and CPR may help you save a child’s life.
You can prevent accidents from happening at home as well. Download the Make Safe Happen app for checklists to help make your home safer room-to-room according to your child’s age. It’s a great way to have safety at your fingertips! (available for iPhone and Android)