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5 Beach Safety Tips for Family Fun

When temperatures soar, families hit the beach. In 2021, Americans spread out their towels and smelled the sea an estimated 400 million times, according to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).

But while beach outings are one of the highlights of summer, they also present serious hazards – from sunburn and jellyfish stings to riptides and lightning. Here’s how to protect your family:

Sun Exposure

Some experts believe that just one blistering sunburn can double your risk for getting skin cancer, which is why the American Cancer Society recommends avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest. Make a firm rule that kids sit under a beach umbrella whenever they’re not swimming. Have them wear a hat, sunglasses and a shirt or cover up when they’re walking around or playing in the sand. And of course, slather on the sunscreen and SPF lip balm.

Tip: Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and use approximately 2 tablespoons of it to cover your entire body. Apply a half hour before heading out, and reapply every two hours or right after swimming or heavy sweating.

Dehydration

When you spend too much time in the sun and heat or have a severe sunburn that gives off heat, it’s easy to become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much water and essential salts, and the symptoms include dizziness, thirst and fatigue. Children and adults over age 60 are most at risk of developing life-threatening complications if they don’t replace lost fluids. The key to preventing and treating mild dehydration is simple: Drink plenty of fluids, including sports drinks, which restore body fluids, salt and electrolytes.

Tip: In addition to drinks, pack your cooler with fruit, which has a high liquid content. Cold watermelon chunks or frozen grapes are summertime favorites.

Rip Currents

Nearly 80 percent of beach lifeguard rescues are due to riptides – strong currents of water that pull away from the shore – according to the USLA. The worst thing you can do if you’re caught in a riptide is try to fight the currents and swim to shore. Remember to stay calm and swim parallel to the shore until the current relaxes – which usually doesn’t take long – and then swim to shore. Or just float or tread water until you’re out of the current. Teach your kids to do the same if they get caught too.

Tip: Swim near a lifeguard. The chance of drowning is five times higher at a beach that doesn’t have one, according to the USLA.

Jellyfish Stings

Jellyfish are a pain – literally – to swimmers in every ocean of the world. Some are harmless, but others are poisonous, with barbed tentacles that inflict pain and irritation on people who come in contact with them. Mild to moderate stings can produce immediate burning pain, itching, blisters, numbness and tingling. They can also leave painful red marks that may take one or two months to go away. But prevention is easy: Don’t swim, play or sit anywhere near them! (Note: If you feel sick or have trouble breathing after a jellyfish sting or if the stings cover a large area, seek emergency treatment.)

Tip: Soothe the discomfort with ice packs and skin creams.

Lightning Strikes

Lightning kills about 60 Americans a year, according to the National Weather Service, and injures more than 300, often leaving them with debilitating long-term conditions such as memory loss, dizziness, chronic pain and muscle spasms. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from where it’s raining. As soon as you hear thunder, leave the beach and take shelter in an enclosed vehicle or building. (Open-sided beach pavilions or snack shacks won’t protect you.) Stay off the beach for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

Tip: When you get to the beach, scope out a safe shelter in case there’s thunder. Make sure your kids know to come out of the water at the first rumble.

Can Your Child Recognize a Rip Current?

The summer I turned 12 I visited my cousins in California. Boogie-boarding in the surf at Santa Monica I had a real scare. A rogue wave flattened me and started dragging me out to sea. 36 years later I can vividly remember the sensation of being in a washing machine, being churned around with the sand scraping against my back and stomach as I was dragged out to sea. The combination of panic and being under water for so long robbed me of the last of my oxygen as I desperately fought to get a foot hold on solid ground. Finally my feet connected with the ocean floor and I stood up – knee deep in water.

I felt foolish, never told my cousins or my aunt. I mean, it’s hard enough being 12, but almost drowning in under 2 feet of water? But I didn’t know. I didn’t understand how to read the ocean and I didn’t know what to do if the water behaved differently than in my local pool and Lake Michigan is a different story from the Pacific Ocean, although just as dangerous if you don’t know what to look for.

When I look at the primary misleading signals that water can give, rip tides or rip currents is probably one of the scariest and least understood, but understanding them prepares you for other events, such as the occasional rogue wave.

I’ll defer to the experts for all the information on rip current, but the most important thing that you need to know, and what you need to teach your children, is how to recognize a rip current, and how to escape if you do get caught.

  • First, a rip current is a strip of deceptively calm water. On either side you’ll see choppy waves, but the rip current is enticingly, beckoningly smooth. That’s the water heading out at a rate faster than an Olympic swimmer can paddle. So, first step, survey the water, and if you see a flat patch, avoid it.
  • Second, if you do get caught, don’t try to fight the water, you’ll never win. Swim slowly and steadily sideways, parallel with the shore. You will either be able to eventually leave the rip current or it will spit you out at the end of the rip current and you just need to swim back to shore.

Ideally you have also chosen to swim near a lifeguard and have checked out any signs warning of rip current or dangerous surf, but since water doesn’t always abide by the rules, it’s best to understand how water acts.

Of course the most important message is ‘don’t panic’, but it’s a lot easier to keep yourself, or your child from panicking if they understand what is happening to them, and go with the water instead of fighting it. I think Dora said it best in Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming….just keep swimming’.

The Magic of Children’s Bath Time

Rubber-duckyOne of the loveliest videos I have ever seen is of baby Sonia receiving her first bath. I get teary just watching it as I remember the first baths I gave my beloved babies. Just as with baby Sonia, they were so relaxed, so calm, so utterly at peace. It made perfect sense to me then, and now. After all, a baby has spent 9 months floating in liquid in a warm and safe environment. How comforting to be back in familiar territory. It’s a feeling that we keep our entire lives.

As parents we tend to forget how important and soothing water is, not just for babies, but to toddlers, teenagers….and adults. Why, just the other day my 11-year old son took one look at my frazzled face and said, ‘maybe you should take a lavender bubble bath tonight’. (That is code in our house for ‘the pin has been pulled on the mom-grenade, we need to minimize collateral damage).

As winter extends, think about extending bath time in your house. Take inspiration from Sonia’s bath. Water gently poured over the face and head, a peaceful environment, a loving touch. Maybe add some bubbles as your child gets older. (I swear by l’Occitane Foaming Lavender Bath – the lavender calms everyone immediately and promotes a restful sleep. It’s pricey, but half a capful gives plenty of bubbles so the bottle lasts a long time). By all means, add some fun bath toys. A simple cup or a few pieces of Tupperware can mean hours of pleasure or Amazon has a huge selection of creative toys. For your teenagers, try not to rip your hair out at the hours spent in the bathroom and the piles of towels on the floor. Remember, calm and in control is good, and if water dampens the hormonal flames, maybe it’s worth the short-term aggravation.

The other bonus? Bathing as a positive introduction to water eases the way for swimming classes, which keeps your child safer in the water their entire life. Naturally you should NEVER leave a child unattended in the bath, not even to run into the other room for a clean diaper. Remember, drowning can happen in 2 minutes in under 2 inches of water. Just as important, young siblings do not make good babysitters when water is around as they don’t understand that little brother or sister lying in the water is not a problem, or maybe they put them there in a moment of conflicted feelings, not knowing what could happen.

Looking for further inspiration for bathing? I recommend that all-time classic, Ernie, singing ‘Rubber Duckie’.

p.s. As I listened to the video my golden retriever, Neptune, came rushing into my office with his ears cocked and a look on his face that said ‘Duck??? You have a DUCK???!!!’ It’s true, everyone loves bath time, especially with Rubber Duckie.

6 Layers of Protection That Keep Your Child Safe Around Water

How many layers of protection does the child in this photo have? Coat to prevent against the elements? Check. Securely buckled into an approved car seat? Check. Extra blanket for warmth? Check. A car that has passed stringent safety tests? Check. But the most important layer is the one you can’t see – he is constantly being taught to always buckle up when he is going in a car – by your actions and possibly by your words. We can make our children’s environment safe by using car seats, safety belts, airbags and cars with good crash-test ratings, but unless we teach a child why those things exist and how to use them, we are only doing half the job of protecting them in the future.

‘Layers of protection’ is the buzzword of choice for drowning prevention. It makes sense for exactly the same reasons we teach children to buckle up. Young children are learning self-control and cause-and-effect – our job is to keep them safe while they are learning, but also to teach them how to be safe, and why, at the same time.

To keep your child safe around water, here are the basic layers of protection you need.

  1. Never leave a child unattended in the bathtub. Personally my rule-of-thumb is that they must excel on a swim team or choose to shower instead of bathe before this rule ends.
  2. If you have a pool, fence the pool. Not the yard, the pool. Look at installing self-closing gates, door alarms and pool alarms as an added layer of protection. Safety Turtle is a great portable choice for holidays and trips to Grandma’s.
  3. Always watch your child near water. Assign an adult to be a ‘Water Watcher’ for 10 minutes, give them a whistle, badge or a sign to hold to remind them that their only job is watching the kids, then rotate so that no one loses focus or misses out on the adult fun.
  4. Empty and turn over buckets, wading pools and anything else that can collect water. Think about covering any ornamental pools or bird baths while your children are under five.
  5. Learn CPR, because drowning happens in under 2 minutes in under 2 inches of water. Accidents do happen. Your local Red Cross or Park District will have classes.
  6. The most important layer though is teaching your child how to be safe around water. Talk to them about why there are fences, why you are watching them, why they need an adult around whenever they are near water – back up your actions with explanations. There is a book about water safety that young children (under 5) love, that can help you with this conversation. It’s called ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’.

With everyone of these actions you are sending two positive messages that will keep your child safe their whole life: Water is fun and you need to act responsibly and safely around water.

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Jabari, which means “brave” in Swahili, is a cute and lovable lion cub. Like most young children, he’s energetic, enthusiastic, curious, and sometimes even a bit mischievous. But Jabari always wants to do the right thing. Children will easily relate to him and want to emulate his positive behavior. Through Jabari’s stories and adventures, children will learn how to be safe in the water. And parents will learn the biggest lesson of all: Always watch your children while they’re in the water. ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’ is available on Amazon.com.

Water Explorers: Family Fun in the Sun

Water ExplorersFew images evoke the feeling of “getting away from it all” as does a canoe, kayak or raft gliding with the current. But you don’t have to live on water — or own a boat, for that matter — to organize an offshore trip. Nor do you have to sign on to an expensive, multi-day, wild river run to experience the wonders of water travel (sans motor) firsthand. With a little research, you can plan a safe and fun expedition that won’t sink your finances in the process.

Rent, rent, rent your boat: Where there is a lake or river, there are usually clubs, outfitters and/or liveries that rent out small vessels — and of course, life jackets — for several hours. Former river guide and adventure mom Julie Thorner of Bryson City, N.C., recommends using an adventure vacation site and doing a little research to find reputable outfitters. Typically, you don’t have to worry about securing a permit. That’s the job of the organization you rent from, and it’s covered by the small fee you’ll be charged for the rental.

Know your water: What you do need to worry about, says Thorner, are the conditions of the water you plan to travel on. She advises all canoeists, kayakers and rafters to make a point of knowing the water. Rivers and rapids are classified to help paddlers know how challenging a route is. For example, a Class I river has few ripples or obstacles, a Class II has some moderately difficult rapids and so on up to Class V, an extremely challenging river with narrow passages, rocks and violent waves.

Know your limits: Novice paddlers looking for excitement can consider a rough river but only if they invest in the services of a guide to travel with them, says Thorner. The experience of a seasoned paddler will help calm nerves — if not the waters — when the craft encounters Class III or IV rapids. A good outfit will have a policy for determining age-appropriate trips. Just make sure in advance that all members of your group, kids and adults alike, are up for the adrenaline rush that comes when you hit dicier waters.

Take it slow: Prefer to leave the guide behind? Paddling newcomers should stick to lakes, which are flat except during windy weather, or Class I or II rivers. You don’t need a guide to do a day float on a gently flowing river or on a lake, says Thorner. “Plus, it’s a great confidence builder to do it on your own,” she says. If younger children are on board, bring along plenty of snacks and plan to stop several times along the banks of the lake or river, making sure to tie up the boat if you intend to swim or walk along the shore.

A no-tip tip: It doesn’t take much for a heavy canoe or traditional kayak to tip over, and righting them, especially in a current of any kind, can be very difficult. Many outfitters also offer inflatable kayaks (often called duckies) and rafts, which are less tippy and much easier to right should they flip over and you fall out. Patsy Fisher of Etna, N.H., once tipped a canoe on the Connecticut River while paddling on her own, and pulling the overturned craft to shore — forget about righting it — was “incredibly difficult.” That’s one reason she prefers the serenity of canoeing on the lake near her home, especially when she’s with one of her three children. “You can hold a conversation — or not — while you’re skimming across the water,” she says. “It’s physical, it’s peaceful, and you can enjoy nature.” Perfect.

Summer Checklist – Ready, Set, Swim!

Summer’s almost here!!!

The weather is trending towards hot and sunny, the pools and beaches are beginning to open for the season, pandemic restrictions are FINALLY starting to lift and you are thinking it might just be safe to wash the snow pants.

So, what do you need to be ready for summer?

  • Swimsuits and goggles – check to make sure last year’s still fit and they aren’t falling apart from the sunshine, salt and chlorine. And if you have a child who won’t put their head in the water, goggles might be the answer.
  • Sunscreen. Do what the Australians do – keep a bottle by the back door and have everyone slap on a bit more every time they go out.
  • Water toys. The more interesting the toys in your beach bag, the less of the teasing/fighting/whining as the ‘toy’ becomes a younger sibling. I love splash bombs, the small torpedoes, diving rings and self-propelled sharks. Not only are they fun, but they keep your child diving and playing in the water which builds confidence and strength. I also have an entire basket of splash bombs in my basement for battles during the cold winter months – a great way to burn off steam safely.
  • Flotation device. What is a parent to do when you are at the pool with more than one child and they aren’t truly accomplished swimmers? We know ‘always watch your children’, but having two active kids myself I can tell you it’s not humanly possible, especially in a crowded pool. Either an approved life vest or, my favorite invention, the Swim Fin. It looks like a shark fin, so it’s totally cool, and it keeps beginner swimmers afloat. What I like best is that it keeps arms and legs completely free to practice their skills, safely, and kids love wearing them – it gives new meaning to the game ‘sharks and minnows’. Also amazing for helping good swimmers improve their stroke, especially butterfly. Contact www.swimfin.co.uk to find out where to buy them near you.
  • Rules. Number one rule: Never go near water without a grownup. Summer safety is very important. Train your kids to tell you ‘I’m going into the pool’. I’m going to the water slide’ ‘I’m going to be near the fountain’ ‘I’m going down by the lake’, and then make sure you are watching them. Teach your kids how to be safe near the water, to self-regulate their behavior so they are safe for a lifetime, not just a minute. The best rule for adults? Assign a water-watcher – an adult whose only job for 10 minutes is to watch the kids, and only watch the kids – no chatting, no texting, no magazines – and then ‘tap’ the next adult so that you can all have a good time and your kids will be safe.

HAVE FUN!!!! My pool/beach bag is packed, bring on summer!

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