As winter is drawing to a close in the northern hemisphere, many of us may be drawn back to the beach and the swimming pool, and why not? The sun is out, the water’s cool, and I for one could use the workout.
But as we’re having fun in the water, there are several things we should pay careful attention to. According to the World Health Organization, drowning was the cause of 350,000 deaths in 2015, making it the 3rd leading reason for unintentional injury death worldwide.
The United States Lifesaving Association got their most experienced lifeguards to compile a list of pointers to keep you safe while you’re splashing around, so make sure to go over them and take them to heart.
1. Stay within the lifeguard’s line of sight
When swimming, and even when approaching the water, make sure the lifeguard can see you. If you aren’t in his field of sight, he won’t be able to notice anything wrong with you and give aid as required.
2. Do not bathe if there is no lifeguard present
If there is no lifeguard present in the shed, or the beach is unsupervised and has no assigned lifeguard, do not go into the water. Lifeguards are aptly named: they save lives. The likelihood of drowning in a residential pool or an unsupervised beach spikes up drastically due to lack of professional supervision.
3. Do not distract the lifeguard
You may think the lifeguard is bored or lonely, but their job requires constant attention to their surroundings, something that’s hard to maintain when somebody’s trying to chat you up. Do not approach the lifeguard unless you need his help. That being said, don’t be afraid to approach him for advice about swimming safety.
4. Don’t run around the pool
The area surrounding the pool is often slick with water, posing a very real threat of slipping. Falling could cause any number of severe injuries, including spinal and cranial damage. Falling into the pool could be even more dangerous. Walk carefully when going around the swimming pool, and unless you’re planning on going into the water, don’t go barefoot.
5. Watch out for warning flags
Lifeguards put up warning flags at the beach to let you know of possible hazards. Most flags will give warning regarding the strength of the current, but some might warn about the presence of dangerous marine wildlife. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of the different flags and be aware that different countries and regions might have different color conventions.
6. Stay out of the water during stormy weather
This is always good advice. The water tends to be choppy and unpredictable and generally unsafe, but one overlooked hazard is lightning (you wouldn’t drop a running electrical appliance into your bathtub, would you? Now, take the voltage up all the way to 300 kilovolts, and you’ve got a lightning strike). Wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder sounds before going near the water. I’d advise to stay clear of the beach altogether during bad weather.
7. Inflatable toys do not replace arm floats/a life vest
Pool noodles, inflatable rafts, and swim rings can slip away or capsize, and so, are unreliable at best as a way to keep a child afloat. The proper way to ensure a child’s safety while swimming is a life vest or arm floats which fit on the child’s body.
8. Waves can be dangerous
Waves pose many dangers, but many disregard the sheer force of a wave striking against the body. Getting hit by a wave could cause sprains, bone fractures, blunt organ trauma, and spinal damage.
9. Caught in a rip current? Keep your cool
Rip currents are one of the deadliest beach hazards. Rip currents are created when waves find resistance in the form of sandbars. When the wave recedes, it seeks a different, easier path, focusing all of its force into that particular path. People caught inside are flung powerfully far from shore. If that happens to you, do not swim to shore. The current is far stronger than you are, and you will tire and drown. Instead, drift along with the current and try to swim parallel to the shore. Only when you are safely out of the current can you try to make your way to shore.
10. Do not drink and swim
As we all know, drinking alcohol impairs judgment, a crucial faculty when one is swimming and needs to pay attention to possible hazards. As an aside, it also serves to accelerate dehydration.
11. Protect your skin
Use sunscreen. Apply the sunscreen roughly 30 minutes before going out, use generous amounts of cream and reapply it after strenuous exercise (such as swimming). While resting, choose a shady place.
12. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water when you’re at the beach or poolside. As above, keep to shady areas while resting. Dehydration and heat stroke are no jokes and cause dizziness, confusion, swelling, increased heart rate and more. In case of dehydration, move to shade immediately, remove unnecessary clothing and drink a lot of water.
13. Keep away from underwater animal life
The water is home to an immense variety of fauna, many of which could pose danger or discomfort for humans. When wading to a rocky area, do with closed shoes, those will both protect you from slipping, and keep your soles safe from corals, crabs, and other creatures. Do not attempt to touch any animal you find at the beach, they could be poisonous or have a nasty sting. This holds true to washed up jellyfish. Even a dead jellyfish can sting.
14. If stung, do not try to treat yourself
First off, except for vinegar, any folk remedy you might have heard of is probably hogwash. Secondly, if you don’t know what you’ve been stung by (and chances are, you don’t), you don’t know what the correct treatment for it is. Pouring random stuff on a sting could seriously aggravate the sting, cause an allergic reaction, or speed up the working of the venom (in the case the creature in question is poisonous). Instead, call a lifeguard and seek medical attention.