Christy Hubbard is a safety consultant for Safe Kids, a nonprofit organization based in the Columbus Health Department. She's also the mother of two young children so she knows and cares deeply about children and water safety - it's especially on her mind this time of year.
Whether at a pool, at the lake or at the beach, the most important rule to remember about kids and water safety is "active supervision," Hubbard said. At all times, there must be a designated adult watching the children in the water. And the adult should know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event a child starts drowning.
You don't have to be away from home to practice water safety. Hubbard provided the following tips from Safe Kids Worldwide for water safety in general:
Never leave your child unattended around water. We know it sounds strict, but there is no room for compromise on this one. Babies can drown in as little as one inch of water.
Put the cell phone away, forget about all the other things you have to do and give young children 100 percent of your attention when they are near or around water.
When using inflatable or portable pools, remember to empty them immediately after use. Store them upside down and out of children's reach. These types of pools can pose a drowning risk.
If you have a pool at home, the risks are greater. Any children who spend a lot of time around pools should have swimming lessons. Homeowners with pools should install safety gates around the pool and have an alarm system, Hubbard advised. You should teach children not to play around pool or spa drains and have appropriate drain covers. If a child is missing at a home with a pool, always look there first. Keep your phone nearby for calling 911 if necessary. Know how to use pool rescue equipment also.
When you're at the lake or beach, small children should always wear a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, Hubbard said. Make sure the life jacket fits snugly. Have kids make a "touchdown" signal by raising both arms straight up; if the life jacket hits a child's chin or ears, it may be too big or the straps may be too loose. Again, active supervision is a must.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety, babies should not travel on a boat -- including rowboats, kayaks, motorboats, and sailboats -- until they are at the appropriate weight to wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD). Here's some more information on how to choose the right life jacket.
Hold on to your baby while also wearing your own life jacket. Car seats are not a good option. If the boat were to capsize, the seat would sink instantly.
Remember that swimming aids such as water wings or noodles are fun toys for kids, but they should never be used in place of a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD).
"Most children who drowned were being watched by an adult right before they drowned," Hubbard said. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children. Approximately 400 children 14 and younger each year drown in pools and spas.
Organizations vary in the age they offer swimming lessons, but there are swim rescue courses that 1 year olds can take, Hubbard said. They learn to flip over on their backs and float until someone can rescue them. Infant Swim Rescue, as it is called "really does work," Hubbard said. She recommends parents call the Parks and Recreation Department or the YMCA to learn about affordable swimming lessons.
All the safety rules apply at the beach, as well as being aware of the warning flags and what they mean, Hubbard said. Riptides are very strong in the ocean, and the flags will tell you when it's safe to swim.
For more information about kids and water safety, visit www.safekidscolumbusga.com.