Did you know that drowning is the most common cause of death among children 1-4 years of age? And according to this study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the risk of drowning can be reduced by 88% if children in that age range undergo formal swimming lessons to arm them with the essential water safety skills to keep them alive.
As children get older (ages 5-9+), drowning no longer remains the leading cause of death which is a good indicator that the swimming skills they were taught early on are paying dividends already by keeping them alive. As a parent, enrolling your children in swimming lessons during early childhood will provide some of the best return on investment you’ll ever get.
Reading further into the aforementioned studies, they highlight that there is still a lingering problem with drowning after children get older. Now, the concern is that a surprisingly high amount of drownings happen to people who are adept at swimming.
At first thought, that doesn’t seem to make sense until you remember what teenagers are like. If they’ve got something desirable (e.g. a good physique, athleticism, natural talent in swimming) then they are likely to show off. I hypothesize that this causes some young and capable swimmers to become overconfident and take unnecessary risks that put them in dangerous situations that can lead to their demise.
Therefore, the need to put one’s ego aside and occasionally brush up on some basic water safety tips is more important than ever before. Too many teenagers and young adults have either forgotten, or are ignoring some essential advice that could keep them safe. In this article, we will be covering 10 crucial safety tips for swimming, so keep reading on to learn what they are.
10 Essential Safety Tips for Swimming
The safety tips provided in this section are general tips that apply to swimming in any type of environment, whether it’s at a swimming pool, ocean, or a lake. As such, there are some activity-specific tips that are not mentioned.
1. Don’t swim alone
In another article I wrote that there are precautions one can take to make swimming alone much safer, but still not entirely risk-free. However, if safety is your number one concern, then do not, under any circumstances, swim alone, especially if you’re open water swimming.
Always make sure at least one adult is watching over you, preferably one who is skilled at recognizing what drowning looks like, even if you’re an adult as well. They don’t even have to be strong swimmers; they can at least call for help or throw you a flotation device.
Parents should never let their kids leave their field of view even for a few seconds. Drownings can happen in under a minute, with children drowning in as quickly as 20 seconds. Therefore every second is precious, so don’t take your eyes off of someone you care about.
For open water swimming, go with a swim buddy. You are doing each other a favor because you’re the other person’s swim buddy and can look out for each other. Lifeguards aren’t your swim buddy because their attention is divided among all the swimmers, plus swimming is a lot more fun with an actual buddy anyways.
If you’re swimming at a public swimming pool, then this requirement is likely satisfied. There will be other swimmers around and hopefully a lifeguard keeping watch so you’re never actually alone.
2. Look before you dive
So many people dive into a body of water without first checking for depth or for any objects beneath; it is mind-boggling how careless some people are as soon as they see a large body of water.
I know it sounds like a pain in the butt to first get into the water, check for depth, get out, and then do a dive. But the real pain in the butt is if you cannonball and land butt first on the hard floor or worse.
Don’t rely on your past experiences diving into that same area to be accurate, especially if a lot of time has passed. The water level can fall, sediment or objects underneath can shift, and if you didn’t inspect it, you may be diving into much shallower waters than you remember.
Each time you dive into water with poor visibility, it’s like you’re gambling with your life. I have heard too many horror stories of people breaking bones, getting knocked unconscious, or even losing their life. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s grisly and not worth the chance of injury.
3. Be aware of your surroundings
It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings. You don’t have to be on high alert 24/7, but you should at least scan the environment every minute or so to see how the conditions are. This is especially important when you’re swimming outdoors.
There are a plethora of things to look out for: currents, marine life, debris, boaters, jet skiers, kayakers, surfers, rapidly changing weather (i.e. sudden rain, strong winds, thunder, or lightning), the list goes on. If you’re paying attention, you can safely stay far away from all of these dangers.
Even at an indoor swimming pool, you should look out for other pool-goers that are horsing around or diving, pool drains, skimmers, and if there are any brown surprises floating around (you know what I’m talking about).
4. Exit the water if you feel unsafe
In the paragraph above, I have provided many examples of scenarios where, upon encountering them, you might consider exiting the water. Here are a few more examples.
If you suddenly feel unwell or unusually fatigued, you should consider leaving the water. Pushing yourself beyond your limits exposes you to unnecessary risk. You could run out of stamina and struggle to stay afloat, or there could be some kind of medical episode occurring to you.
These are situations that, if they occurred to you on land, could easily be dealt with. It’s a different story if you’re in the water, particularly the open water, as this makes you highly susceptible to drowning.
If the water conditions or your own personal condition changes for the worse, don’t hesitate to exit the water and call it a day.
5. No alcohol
Alcohol is great for a fun time, but it’d be a mistake to combine drinking alcohol with swimming.
It is common knowledge at this point that drinking alcohol causes impairment, both physically and mentally, among a myriad of other side effects. Your coordination, reaction speed, and decision-making skills will go out the window. You will also become very dehydrated because alcohol is a diuretic (makes you want to pee), and dehydration only further impairs your physical and mental performance.
A big concern is how badly your decision making skills are affected by alcohol. You may make errors in judgment such as misjudging how far you are swimming out or how safe the water conditions are. Everything that makes swimming dangerous is amplified if you drink alcohol, so don’t risk it.
6. Stay hydrated
It’s very easy to become dehydrated if you’re spending time in the water. Aside from the fact that saltwater can literally absorb moisture from you, it’s probably hot out and you’re moving around a bunch so you are sweating, and also losing fluids when you pee (who doesn’t pee in the water). It’s a good idea to occasionally take a break to drink some fresh water to replenish these lost fluids.
Stay away from alcohol and caffeine because they are diuretics. Essentially, these drinks don’t actually hydrate you since they make you want to pee, causing you to lose more fluids in the long run than what you gain from drinking them. Stick with water.
Some side effects of dehydration include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dark yellow- or amber-colored urine
- Decreased skin elasticity
- Dry mouth and mucous membranes (lips, gums, nostrils)
- Low blood pressure
If you are experiencing these symptoms, some of which directly affect your swimming ability, be sure to exit the water, rehydrate, and fully recuperate before heading back into the water.
7. Reach and throw, don’t go
If you notice someone is drowning, you may feel the urge to dive in and mount a heroic rescue operation. As good as your intentions are, that is the wrong thing to do. Many drownings have occurred where the victim, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, latches onto their rescuer and pulls him under the water, resulting in both of them drowning.
Instead, what you should do is keep a life jacket or other life saving flotation device on hand ( find one if you’re at a public pool) and simply throw it towards the drowning individual. At that point, you’ve done your part; the rest is up to the victim to reach out and grab it.
This should also serve as a reminder to pack your own life jacket or other personal flotation device when swimming outdoors just in case you or your friend needs it.
8. Know your limits
In addition to paying attention to your surroundings, you must also know your swimming ability. It’s better to err on the side of caution if the currents are starting to pick up, the weather is changing, or if you start getting tired.
You don’t want to end up hundreds of meters away from your boat or the shore while you’re running on fumes and the beach condition is worsening. Even in a swimming pool, you should be careful not to swim to complete exhaustion and run out of stamina in the middle of a lap.
Alcohol is a silent killer because it throws your judgment all out of whack. While tipsy, you may ignore warning signs that a sober version of yourself wouldn’t have, and this can lead to disaster. Know your limits, and that is only possible with good judgment.
9. Plan for emergencies
You can’t be like Batman and plan for every contingency, but you can at least be prepared for the most important emergencies.
For instance, you should pack a life jacket just in case. Whether you’re going swimming or with a buddy, tell someone else where you’re going and to call for help if you don’t return by a certain point.
Have someone watching you from shore or nearby in a boat, poised to take action as soon as something goes wrong. Wear a bright wetsuit and swimming cap so that you are highly visible. Wear a swim buoy to further increase your visibility.
Run these worst case scenarios in your head. What will you do if you get caught in a riptide? If you find yourself suddenly exhausted? How will you call for help? Remember that every second counts in a drowning situation, so if you already have an idea of what to do, you will save precious seconds and have the greatest chances of survival.
10. Use common sense
I don’t mean to be facetious, but I feel like a lot of safety tips, whether we’re talking about swimming or any other sport, can basically be summed up as: use common sense. Or said another way: don’t be an idiot.
Unfortunately, mob mentality is a really big issue, especially among younger swimmers. They may feel pressured to do something dangerous for the sake of looking cool, or because everybody else in the group is doing it and they don’t want to be the odd one out.
This is less of an issue for adults who are wiser, don’t care about popularity anymore, and tend to be more cautious. However, if you’re a parent with young children, try your best to communicate to your child(ren) just how dangerous it is to ignore these swimming safety tips. Kids will do what they want to do, but hopefully yours will take it to heart.
Many of these tips above, I wrote with a younger version of myself in mind. I won’t deny that I did a lot of dumb things as a kid. Do as I say and not as I do.
And finally, the safety tips covered in this article are general purpose tips. I didn’t bother to cover things like “don’t run poolside” because this falls under common sense and you can always just look up the rules at your local swimming pool. Is there anything major that I missed? Let me know!