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Warm, sunny weather is about to fully embrace Oregon, and many families will dramatically increase the amount of time they spend in the great outdoors. We’ll be hiking and biking on trails, picnicking in parks, and playing a variety of sports on fields and in other open, natural spaces. As the heat of summer intensifies, we may seek some respite and recreation in the cool waters around us: pools, ponds, rivers and lakes. These oases are refreshing and provide us with terrific exercise. However, water fun also comes with risks. Accidental drownings are one of the leading causes of death among youths 5 to 24 years of age, so it is important for families to approach all bodies of water with caution. Jason Kemmerich, aquatic supervisor at North Clackamas Aquatic Park, has some tips for adults and kids looking to enhance their summer fun in and around water.
Tip #1: Never leave children unattended near or in a body of water.
Kids can be enticed into water easily, and they are at high risk for drowning. They can tire quickly when swimming, or get pulled under the water’s surface by a current that is too strong for them to fight. Children should be monitored at all times when they are near the water, and especially when they are splashing around. Jason stresses that the monitoring should be done by adults who are entirely comfortable being in the water. If the adults cannot swim, they will not be able to rescue any child in trouble in the water.
Throw, Don’t Go. When asked what they should do if a friend or sibling is struggling in the water, children should know to not enter the water. Instead, they should look for a device that can reach into the water such as a pool noodle, a foam ring or even a large stick the struggling person can grab and hold onto while being pulled to safety.
Take a lap. If you have a pool, it is a good idea to test to make sure your child can swim a full lap. Then you’ll know if your child can swim far enough to exit the pool no matter where he or she falls in.
Educate. Enrolling your children in year-round swimming lessons is one of the first defenses in drowning prevention.
Tip #2: Never swim alone. Always swim with a buddy.
Swimming alone is very unsafe, even for older kids and adults who have decades of experience. The risk that a drowning might occur is simply too great. Anyone going in the water should have a buddy with them in case they get into trouble and cannot keep their head above water.
Tip #3: Always try to swim in designated waters with a lifeguard.
It is best to swim in water that is free of boaters, jet-ski riders and hazardous debris. Swimming should be done in an area that is specifically designated and maintained for that activity. Community pools are perfect examples of such environments. These facilities are chemically cleaned to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, and there are always lifeguards on duty to help swimmers in need.
Tip #4: Cold water can be very perilous.
When swimmers of any age enter cold water, they can find themselves quickly struggling to stay afloat. As our bodies go into shock from the low temperature, it becomes harder for us to breathe and move, which puts us at great risk of drowning. For this reason, swimmers should avoid water that is extremely cold to the touch.
Tip #5: Always wear a lifejacket when boating.
Many people pack lifejackets on their boats but do not wear them while the watercraft is in motion. This is a big mistake, because accidents often leave no time for putting on lifejackets before being submerged or thrown overboard. That means treading water until rescuers arrive, and anyone who is injured or not a good swimmer could drown before help arrives.
Jason is quick to point out that aquatic disasters can be avoided. The key is to be both educated about, and prepared for, any kind of emergency. Adults and children can gain the necessary knowledge by taking lessons on aquatic safety, First Aid and CPR at their local community pools. The American Red Cross also has resources available for those who would like to learn more about being safe in the water.
Enjoy all of the wonderful water fun summer offers. We’ll see you at the pool!