We're having a heat wave here in Oregon, and it's become part of my regular afternoon routine with the kids to head to a nearby river to play. Personally, I have all sorts of open water phobias (fish! Murky algae! The unlikely yet still technically possible presence of nuclear submarines!), but spending hours getting wet, chilly, and prune-wrinkled is my boys' idea of summertime heaven.
At seven and five, my kids are young enough that a water outing isn't exactly relaxing for me -- I watch them like a hawk the whole time, monitoring how deep they are and their proximity to swift-moving currents. Still, despite my existing paranoia, it wasn't until I recently reviewed some water safety tips that I realized there are a number of dangers I'd never even thought of before.
Check out this list of 7 lesser-known water safety hazards and make sure you're up to speed:
1) Drowning doesn't look like you think.
You've probably read about this before, but a refresher can't hurt. We tend to think that drowning people will look like they do in movies -- lots of thrashing around and screaming for help. Instead, there are four signs that someone's in real trouble: they're silent, they aren't visibly moving much, their head is often back with the mouth open near the surface of the water, and their bodies are upright as if they're climbing a staircase. Drowning is deadly quiet, it's scarily hard to notice, and it can happen to a child in the blink of an eye.
2) Arm floaties are out, life vests are in.
Those little inflatable things children wear on their arms? You know, the kind we ALL wore when we were kids? They're now considered extremely dangerous, thanks in part to the false sense of confidence they can give a kid, who may then venture into dangerous waters. Arm floaties can also easily slide off, and they do a poor job of holding a child's face and mouth above water. Ditch the swimmies for a well-fitting, Coast Guard-approved flotation life vest with a crotch strap.
3) Pool drains can be deadly.
I'm sure we've all heard a horror story or two about pool drains, but the fact is they really can be horribly dangerous. It's rare, but it happens, like in the tragic 2007 case of a six-year-old whose small intestine was torn from her body by an uncovered pool drain (it sounds gory, but there wasn't even any blood at the time -- all the girl could say is that her stomach hurt). The little girl died nine months later after enduring 16 surgeries, including a liver, small bowel and pancreas transplant.
Experts say that if you own a pool, be sure a federally-compliant drain cover is installed properly, and check to be certain it isn't on a recall list. In public pools, it's simply safest to keep kids away from drains, pipes, and other openings.
4) Some children should always be within "touch supervision."
While all children should be supervised in the water, regardless of their swimming ability, infants, toddlers, and weak swimmers should have an adult with arm's reach. This one can be SO hard in practice -- my 5-year-old is a weak swimmer, after all, and yet I'm not always within arm's reach when he's playing in shallow water. But I do try to stay within grabbing distance when we're in a pool or near deeper water.
5) Just 2 inches of water is enough to kill a child.
Very young children are terrifyingly vulnerable in this regard: they can drown in less than 2 inches (6 centimeters) of water. That means you have to consider all sorts of unlikely-sounding dangers: the sink, the toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home, like soggy ditches filled with rainwater.
6) Not having a phone can be dangerous.
Since a water emergency can happen so quickly, seconds count. Always have a phone with you when you're supervising kids in the water in the event you need to call 911 (but, of course, don't get distracted by your phone. Twitter and swimming doesn't mix). Remember that having a lifeguard nearby is no safety guarantee: according to the Drowning Prevention Center, one in five children drown in public pools with lifeguards present.
7) Last but not least: underwater swimming and/or breath holding contests are a terrible idea.
I remember having underwater breath-holding contests all the time as a kid, or seeing who could swim the longest without going to the surface. It turns out these activities can lead to a potentially deadly phenomenon known as shallow water blackout. Shallow water blackout is most commonly associated with skin diving, but it can happen to regular swimmers too. Basically, in normal conditions a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood is what triggers our need to take a breath. If a swimmer hyperventilates before going under, as people sometimes do when planning to hold their breath for a long period of time, the level of carbon dioxide in their bloodstream is artificially lowered, and they may black out from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Creepily, the blackout victim may make involuntary -- yet seemingly coordinated -- movements even after they're passed out, fooling observers into thinking everything's okay.
Well! Now that I'm good and freaked out, was there anything new to you here? Do you have any other water safety tips for parents who are taking kids to pools, beaches, and rivers this summer?
Image via Judith511/Flickr