Avoiding accidents at the beach or pool

You have your hat and sunglasses and the kids are lathered up with sunblock. It’s time to head to the pool or beach for some relief from summer’s heat. But before you unleash the kids and let them charge down to the ocean’s edge, there are important swimming safety tips you should keep in mind – both for yourself and your little ones. They just might save your life or the lives of your loved ones.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people die from drowning in the United States every day. Unfortunately, 20 percent of the victims are children under the age of 14. The rate of drowning-related deaths peaks during the hottest months of the year and is also higher in the late afternoon – when swimmers are tired and less vigilant after a long day in the sun.

"An accident around the water can happen in an instant," said Geisinger pediatrician Laurie Campfield, DO. "You can cut down on the risks and make sure everyone has a great time by making safety a priority."

Tip 1: Know your limits

Your mother’s advice about not swimming an hour after eating was good, but she could have gone even further. You should always have a good understanding of your current condition and fitness level. Things like a big meal, too much alcohol and a recent injury or illness can limit even the strongest swimmers.

"You should never mix swimming with alcohol," said Dr. Campfield. "A few drinks will impair your judgment and you may overestimate your abilities."

Tip 2: Keep an eye on the kids

Any time a child is in the pool, lake or ocean, a responsible adult should be watching. It isn’t enough to simply be nearby or within earshot – you should have your eyes on the swimmers at all times.

"It only takes a second for a child to get into trouble in the water, and you’ll only have a few seconds to react and provide assistance," said Dr. Campfield.

Tip 3: Feet first, first time

Whenever you’re entering a body of water you’re unfamiliar with, always follow the "feet first, first time" rule. This means that you should jump in or wade in; never dive. Hitting the bottom of the pool or lake can lead to severe head and neck injuries, even paralysis.

"Most head and neck injuries occur from diving in water that’s less than four feet deep," said Dr. Campfield. "If you’re not sure about the depth, don’t dive."

Tip 4: Good fences make good neighbors

If you have a backyard pool, make sure you have a fence around it to keep trespassers out. In some locations, you will be liable for any injuries that occur at your pool if you haven’t made an effort to keep people away.

"Neighborhood kids may ‘pool hop’ or your neighbor’s child may wander onto your property," said Dr. Campfield. "A fence is an easy way to prevent a potential tragedy and is often mandated by the community."

Tip 5: Use your PFD

Many accidents happen on a boat so it’s always a good idea to wear your personal flotation device (PFD). This means you should be wearing it, not holding it. You should also make sure it fits properly and has been recently inspected. Pool noodles and rafts are not reliable in an emergency.

"If you are knocked unconscious or fall overboard, the personal flotation device can help you keep your head above water until help arrives," said Dr. Campfield.

With a little planning and foresight, you can avoid most of the hazards around the pool and beach this summer.

Laurie Campfield, DO, is a pediatrician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. To schedule an appointment for your child with Dr. Campfield or another Geisinger pediatrician, please call 1-800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

Man diving pool