Stay safe around water: What adults should know

With temperatures rising and fun summer activities in full swing, families will be flocking to our lakes, rivers, and reservoirs to cool off. However, before you grab the swimsuits and towels, it’s critically important to review proper water safety measures.

You hear the horror stories about parents who turned their backs for one second and faced tragic results — but water safety isn’t just about protecting small children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an average of 3,957 unintentional drowning deaths occur each year, and children aren’t the only victims. In Utah, multiple adult drownings happen every summer.

No matter how young or old you are, no matter how confident you may feel, everyone can benefit from a little refresher when it comes to staying safe around water. 

Here are a few things every adult should know before heading out to the next pool or lake party — and reading these tips might just save your life.

Being a 'good swimmer' isn't a guarantee of safety

Don’t let those commercials of Olympic swimmers diving headfirst into turbulent ocean waters fool you. Just because you know how to swim, that doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Unfortunately, too many overconfident swimmers drown because they’re more willing to take risks in the water. (The risks increase if you’re in open water.) Just as you wouldn’t play with fire, water is another element that can be deadly if you underestimate it.

Solo swimming is never a good idea

It might sound like fun to go for a peaceful dip in the pool or do a little night swimming on your own, but this is about as safe as driving with your eyes shut. Even if you’re the best swimmer in the world, you can’t always predict what might happen. What if you lost consciousness and no one was around? What if a belt loop hooked tree branch you couldn’t see underwater? Too many things could go wrong and it’s not worth taking the risk. 

Know your surroundings

It might look nice and deep, but never dive headfirst into water unless you know for certain that it’s safe and there are no objects in the way. Always enter feet first before you decide to dive.

Don't dive in to save someone in danger

This may go against your natural instincts, but if someone is drowning or in danger in the water, resist the urge to dive in after them. Doing so may put both of you in danger. Instead, practice the old “reach, throw, row or don’t go” method of rescue. Reach out to the person with any object they might be able to grab onto. Throw them a life jacket or something to help them float. If you’re on a boat, you can use oars to row closer to a person to reach or throw something to them. (Make sure not to put your boat’s motor toward a person in the water.)

If you can’t do any of the above, your best option is “don’t go.” It’s a very difficult decision to make, but making yourself a victim won’t help anyone.

Lifeguards aren't just for kids

For all the reasons listed above, it’s important to have as many safety measures in place as possible. While a trained lifeguard is ideal, there isn’t always one on duty. That’s why it’s a good idea to appoint someone to be a “water watcher.” One of the biggest hazards to water safety is distraction, so make sure this is someone who won’t be looking at their phone or falling asleep on the shore. (Think of it as a designated driver, but for water sports.) Download and print a “water watcher” card from Primary Children’s Hospital to help everyone remember who the “water watcher” is.

You're never too old for swimming lessons

Here’s a scary thought: More than half of U.S. adults don’t know how to swim well enough to save their lives. If you’ve been doggy-paddling your way through life, it’s time to take things more seriously. Enrolling in an adult swim class is a smart thing to do if you’ve never learned the basics — or if you’re looking to improve. And since half of your friends don’t know how to swim well enough either, you’ll have plenty of friends who can join you.

Alcohol and swimming don't mix

If you shouldn’t drink and drive, you shouldn’t drink and dive. Period. Alcohol numbs your senses, which is absolutely the last thing you want when you’re surrounded by an element that could easily kill you.

There's one thing you should never be without

It’s called a life-preserver for a reason. The simple fact is that if more adults would wear a life jacket, drastically more lives would be saved. Wondering how often you should wear it? The National Park Service recommends wearing a life jacket anytime you’re on, near, or in the water. For any water activity, a life jacket is always a safe bet.

Additional resources to help you stay safe around water

Now that you know how to take care of yourself better, be sure to brush up on some water safety guidelines to protect the rest of your family.

You can find more water safety tips and learn about other child safety topics by visiting primarychildrens.org/safety.