Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
Children's Wisconsin swim safety

Taking a deep dive into swim safety

One of the best parts of summer is getting to cool off in a pool, lake or (if you get out of Wisconsin) the ocean. But being in water also comes with increased responsibility for all involved. Drowning can happen fast. According to the World Health Organization, drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional death in kids age 1-14 years old.  

Swimming is great exercise and such a fun way to spend the day. I want to help make this summer, or your next trip some place warm, the best it can be with a few tips for staying safe while enjoying some time in the water! 

The basics 

Let’s start with some basic swimming safety wherever you are.

  • Never leave children unsupervised around water — pools, hot tubs, lakes, ponds, even kiddie pools in your backyard that can only hold a few inches of water — not even for a quick second. Drowning can happen quickly and in silence.

  • Children under 5 should be no further than an arm’s length away from a responsible adult — preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR. “Touch supervision” is essential!

  • Choose an adult or adults in charge when children are swimming or around water. Get rid of distractions. No phones, books, screens, etc. Set a time limit, say 15-30 minutes, and have another adult take over.

  • Talk to your kids about swimming safety and the dangers of swimming without a responsible adult. It’s never too early to have this conversation. Choose language they can understand.

  • Swimming lessons are a life-saving skill that all children should have. However, parents should never confuse ability to swim with not being able to drown.

  • When needed, use well-fitting, Coast Guard-approved life jackets, not air-filled toys (such as water wings) or pool noodles for flotation assistance. Check the fit of the jacket. Make sure it’s not too big or too small and worn comfortably with all the straps.

  • As always, whenever your kids are outside — even on cloudy days —  be sure they have on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. And remember to reapply often. Swim shirts are another great option to protect against sunburn. 

Pool safety 

There are different safety precautions for various types of water you may be around. Let’s start with pool safety.

  • For a pool at home, install a fence at least 4 feet high that completely surrounds the pool. The fence should not be able to be opened by young ones. Additionally, it should not have openings that kids can wiggle through, climb over or scoot under.

  • Make sure pool gates open out from the pool, and self-close with a latch at least 54 inches from the ground. Additional barriers include a pool alarm and window barriers. A pool alarm sounds if waves are detected on the water’s surface, and window guards can be helpful for any windows that face the pool.

  • Remember that pool covers should fit securely over the entire pool and so no water gets trapped on top. Solar pool covers are not safety covers! A child can easily mistake a solar cover for a solid surface and easily slip underneath and become trapped. 

  • Enforce pool rules such as no diving in shallow water, pushing, dunking or running.

  • When you’re finished swimming, remove all pool toys so kids aren’t later tempted to climb in when an adult may not be around.

  • Store pool cleaners and chemicals carefully and away from kids. Explosions and burns can happen if these are improperly stored or handled by kids.

  • If a child is missing and you’re near a pool, check the pool first.

  • Don't use a pool if there are broken or missing drain covers. The suction from the drain may trap a swimmer underwater.

  • Pee in the toilet, not in the pool! When urine and chlorine mix in the pool, there is less chlorine available to kill germs.

  • Diarrhea and swimming don’t mix. Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea. 

Open water safety: Lakes, rivers, ocean

Many of the pool safety rules apply to open water swimming, but there are some additional rules to follow: 

  • Before you head out, check online to see if the swim area is under advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons.

  • Never swim in fast-moving water.

  • Enter water feet first and wade slowly, navigating carefully. Rocks, uneven surfaces or drop offs can be hard to see.

  • Ocean swimming should only be done when a lifeguard is on duty and in a designated area that has been deemed safe for swimming.

  • Do not dive into water unless you know the depth and have checked for underwater objects.

  • Teach kids about rip currents. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until you are free of the current.

  • If there is rain or lightning, get out of the water and seek shelter immediately. 

Boating safety

With so many lakes around us, boating is popular. There are a few things you can do to make your boat outing safer too. 

  • Everyone should wear a life jacket, adults and kids alike.

  • Parents and teens should understand how alcohol, drugs and some prescription medications can increase the risk of injuries or drowning while swimming or boating.

I hope the above tips allow everyone to have a fun and safe summer! As always, if you have any questions about the health and well-being of your child, please reach out to your child’s pediatrician.