How to be an effective water watcher

Expert tips for keeping children safe in the water this summer



With summer officially here, New Hampshire’s numerous waterways—lakes, rivers, streams, and the ocean—will be popular recreation places for many people, especially families with small children.

For parents, or anyone with children under their care, experts say there are guidelines and tips for how to become more effective “water watchers.”

Winning Swimming’s Carolanne Caron, an approved water safety presenter in the state, said the most important thing to keep in mind when children are in or around the water is to account for every child every 10 seconds.

“If a child is missing, look in the water first,” she said.

She encourages water watchers to rotate positions every 15 minutes so they do not get bored or inattentive. Also, Caron provided the following guidelines:

• If your child cannot swim well, you should be within arm’s reach in the water with them.

• If your child is learning to swim, you should be in the water with him/her until he/she can demonstrate successful stroke technique.

• If you want a non-swimmer to be able to be independent in the water, have them wear a US Coast Guard certified life jacket in the water.

“Do not rely on inflatable toys, arm bands, or waist bands to support your child in the water,” she added. “They can deflate.”

Tyler Gray, co-owner of NH Swim School & Swim NH, added that water watchers should pay special attention to flotation devices, including puddle jumpers, water wings, swim rings and inflatable toys.

“Flotation devices do not make a child drown-proof,” he said. “Many accidents still happen when a child is wearing a flotation device due to tipping over, getting stuck on something, or accidentally taking it off.”

He said adults should supervise their children in the water regardless as to their ability or skill level.

“Do not overestimate a child’s swimming ability due to the fact that they are wearing a flotation device that supports them,” he said.

Caron said water watchers should also be vigilant in looking out for the dangerous “too’s.”

“Watch for kids who complain of being too tired, too cold, too much sun — you want to take frequent breaks,” she said.

Gray said if there is one thing every water watcher should know it would be to not allow oneself to become distracted.

“Don’t look at your cell phone or have conversations with others while your children are in the water,” he said.

It is best to designate one adult as the water chaperone and take turns if possible, he added.

“That way, an adult can still tend to their other kids or make lunch,” he said. “Making one adult responsible will really emphasize the importance of focusing on the kids in the water.”

New Hampshire is full of different kinds of waterways — lakes, oceans, rivers, etc. — although that does not change Gray’s general advice.

“Many of the same rules apply at different bodies of water, but it is important to be aware of tides and rip currents and changing water depths,” he said.

Whether approaching a lake or the ocean, Caron said water watchers should be sure that children are only swimming in designated areas. She said it is also important to set clear rules for how far your child(ren) can go out into the water.

“Non-swimmers should not go in above their navel,” she said. “If you are swimming in a private swim area, check for underwater obstacles like branches, or large or sharp rocks before swimming…If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you get out of the current or can get to land.

For those who like to jump into the water, she said they should go in feet first unless the depth is more than nine feet deep.

 Gray cited additional statistics from the American Red Cross, which indicate that children age 1 to 4 have the highest rate for drowning. “In the United States, drowning rates are second behind motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death from unintentional injury in children ages 1 through 14.”

If parents and caregivers adhere to the following advice, they can avoid being a statistic, he said.

“Enroll children in swimming lessons, provide close and constant supervision, and use proper barriers around home pools,” he said. “Swim in a lifeguarded area, or receive some level of training yourself in a water safety course…Things can happen quickly and quietly in the water – and just a few seconds can make the difference between a close call or a call to 911.” 

Rob Levey is a longtime contributor to Parenting New Hampshire.

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