With an ocean of water-fun activities available in Central New York, chances are good that your summer leisure time will involve some proximity to water. Whether your recreation centers on one of New York’s lakes, rivers or ponds, or a home or neighborhood pool, parents should instruct children of all ages how to stay safe around water.
Young people between ages 6 and 20 are the most susceptible to drowning, according to statistics compiled by the New York State Department of Health. Most victims were males and more than 50 percent of the fatalities were due to inadequate supervision.
Next to consistent supervision, learning to swim provides the most reliable method of ensuring water safety. Enchanted Forest/Water Safari, located in Old Forge in the Adirondacks, is New York’s oldest and largest water theme park. First started in 1956 as an amusement park, water rides were added in 1984.
Katie Noonan, marketing director for the park, can’t recall when she first learned to swim. Her family owns the water park and she grew up around water.
“Water parks are statistically safer than going to the beach,” Noonan says. “We employ between 30 and 40 lifeguards during the summer season.” All lifeguards are trained on-site and certified by the Red Cross for CPR and lifeguard skills. Water Safari also has height requirements to ensure that children don’t get in over their heads.
With on-duty lifeguards and safety guidelines, water dangers seem more manageable at water theme parks or public pools. But around the home pool, parents must be ever-vigilant about their own children as well as neighbor children who may come over to enjoy the water, with permission or not.
Home pools, whether in-ground or above-ground, require the utmost in safety: Children must be supervised at all times and any pool designed to contain water over 24 inches deep (constructed or installed after Dec. 14, 2006) must have a pool alarm that is capable of emitting an audible alarm when it detects a child entering the water. Additional rules on pool barriers, such as fences that are at least 48 inches high, are issued by the Department of State’s Codes Division.
The use of flotation devices should never be a substitute for parental supervision. Specifically, inflatable “arm floaties” can become deflated or slip off little arms while in the water. Closed-cell flotation devices that are built into a child’s swimsuit are safer but should never be used in place of teaching your child how to be safe in water, and they are no substitute for learning to swim.
Kathy Schultz of DeWitt has an above-ground backyard pool but has never had any trouble getting her three children, ages 9, 6 and 4, to follow her pool safety rules. “They have strict instructions not to go near the pool unless an adult is in the pool with them,” says Schultz. “If they don’t, then they are restricted from the pool, so they listen.” When visiting children come to swim, the same rules apply.
“Even if the child is a good swimmer, no one is allowed near the pool unless an adult is there,” says Schultz. While Schultz’s youngest child has not yet learned to swim and wears arm floaties, he is never left unattended for any length of time.
Her 9-year-old began taking swim lessons through a local Red Cross-certified program a few years ago. The family’s tradition is to take lessons through the winter months and then practice in the pool during the summer.
Even when recreation isn’t in the plans, keeping the home and yard free of drowning hazards is crucial. Infants and young children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, according to a 2002 Consumer Product Safety Commission study on preventing in-home drowning deaths. The most important thing you can do to prevent such fatal accidents is to supervise your child at all times when he or she is near or in water, especially during bathing. A baby who slips or rolls face down in water may not be able to turn over. Bath safety devices, like bathing seats or flotation devices, may help keep the child’s face above water but should never be a substitute for your supervision.
Empty buckets where water collects, even rainwater, can be dangerous to an inquisitive child. Consider installing toilet safety latches when toddlers begin to get around, and empty ice chests and coolers immediately after use. Keeping a close eye on children when you are doing yard work or enjoying outdoor activities will keep them out of harm’s way.
The most important thing you can do to prepare your child to be safe around water is to teach him or her to swim. The Red Cross and other community organizations offer swim lessons for people of all ages and skill levels. Investing in this safeguard can not only provide peace of mind but also a lifetime of enjoyment.
• If you are not a strong swimmer, wear a PFD (personal flotation device) around deep water.
• Always swim with a buddy.
• Always go feet first into unfamiliar water, never dive headfirst.
• If you see someone in trouble, signal the lifeguard—don’t try to save the person yourself since he or she may pull you down.
• Don’t ever pretend you are drowning.
• Don’t let friends tease you into doing something you don’t want to do.
• Avoid the dangerous “too”s: too tired, too far away from friends, too cold, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.
• Always follow lifeguard’s instructions and posted rules and regulations.
• Learn to swim!
Photos by Lisa A. Mergler-Santoro