Water Safety Tips From A Former Lifeguard: Waterfronts

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Knowing how to keep your kids safe around open water is key to a happy summer.

After lifeguarding for 6 years in my late teens and early 20’s I can sadly say few parents I encountered did water safety well. What was always the most scary was preventing potentially tragic accidents and having the parents be none the wiser. Maybe you had your own experiences as a child. One of my earliest memories is a beach trip where I was caught in an undertow (in less than a foot of water). I am only here today thanks to a random man who brought me to my feet and walked away.

My parents were not neglectful at all, they were close by sunning on the beach and I was in water no deeper than my knees (and it was the 80’s!). I think, as with many parents, it often came down to not being educated about water safety and drowning statistics. So before I get into water safety tips, let’s focus on some statistics:

Most parents overestimate their own swimming abilities.

According a 2012 study done by the Canadian Red Cross, 73% of Canadian adults report knowing how to swim despite less than half (44%) having actually ever taken formal lessons. When asked about swimming competency, 44% of Canadians surveyed said they could swim up to 30 minutes “without touching the bottom or using a flotation device in a lake, large river or the ocean” while 37% responded as unsure as to how far or long they would be able to swim. To give you an idea of how unrealistic this is, as a former regular swimmer and having watched thousands of people swim for several years, unless you swim regularly (as in weekly) most people need to place their feet on solid ground after swimming between 25 and 50 meters. This is one length of an olympic sized swimming pool.

In the US, drowning is 5th on the list of unintentional deaths as reported by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Exactly how big is the problem? Roughly each year there are 3,536 deaths from unintentional drownings and these numbers don’t include deaths from boating related drownings. That is about 10 Americans a day with two of those people being children.

As if those stats aren’t uncomfortable enough, let’s talk about children specifically.

Now, these are Canadian statistics which tend to be lower than my American neighbours but you’ll get the gist. Of the deaths that occurred while playing/wading in water, 41% were at lakefronts, 26% were along riversides, 23% were in backyard pools and 5% in public swimming pools. 71% of those fatalities were non-swimmers.

water safety

Let’s talk water safety.

Having a blast with your family at a waterfront and being water safe is super easy!

  • Within Arms Reach – the #1 way to prevent drowning with young children is to be within an arms length of your child at all times when in or around open water. Sounds inconvenient? Don’t go to the beach.
  • Lifejackets – ALL children who are non-swimmers should be in Lifesaving Society or Coast Guard approved life vests when in open water. Not water wings, floaties, or inner tubes etc but lifejackets. Lifejackets should be orange, yellow or red and have a crotch strap. Child refuses to wear a lifejacket? Don’t go to the beach.

  • Swimming lessons – if you are financially able, enroll your child in swimming lessons. The best way to prevent drowning is having formal swimming lessons accompanied with water safety. Swimmers rarely drown without the help of alcohol.
  • Swim at lifeguarded waterfronts – Choose waterfronts with lifeguards. Remember the old saying, two eyes are better than one? Plus a lifeguard can tell you information that will help keep your family safe during your visit, such as, water depths, temperatures, guarded zones, water quality, and other various safety information.
  • Know before you go – Know the depth of the water. Especially at manmade waterfronts drop-offs are very common. Drop-offs are when the water goes from being 5-6 feet deep to over 15 feet deep in an instant. Knowing water depths and drop-off locations are key to keeping children safe at waterfronts.

I hope these tips help you and your family have fun while being safe around the waterfront this summer! This is the first in my 3 part water safety series. Up next, backyard pool safety!

Have a water safety question? Ask me in the comments.

Also! 1 week left to enter my giveaway where you could win a gorgeous yoga towel and a 16oz Healthy Human stainless steel water bottle. Contest closes May 18th. Good luck!

Chat soon,


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