I can’t recall a family vacation that hasn’t involved my kids at some time during it being in proximity to water. Pools, oceans, lakes, rivers, water parks whenever and wherever you are traveling there always seems to be an opportunity to enjoy getting wet. While playing in the water can be an incredibly fun time it can also quickly turn into a tragedy if you aren’t vigilant about safety.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention & Control, drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury deaths within the United States. Every day an average of ten people die from accidentally drowning. Do you and your family members have an understanding of basic water safety tips and swimming skills to avoid becoming one of these statistics?
I chatted with Chris McCuiston, co-founder of Goldfish Swim Schools, about what every dad and mom should know when it comes to water safety during a family vacation. Chris and his wife Jenny opened the original Goldfish Swim School in Birmingham, Michigan during 2006 with the goal of creating a better family-friendly swimming lesson experience for children than was currently available. Based upon customer satisfaction with the Goldfish experience, a decade later the McCuistons have franchised their concept so that locations are now spread across Michigan as well as 14 other states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma & Texas). Not only have the McCuiston’s business expanded but so has their family during that time as Chris is now the father of 4 boys ranging between the ages of two and eight.
Q: What are some safety tips every parent should know before they take their kids on a vacation where they’ll be visiting a beach, pool or water park?
A: One of the most important factors in water safety is maintaining constant supervision of your children no matter what skill level they swim at or how shallow the water is. A child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, in as little time as 20 seconds. There should always be a designated adult watching the children. Rotate adults watching the children to make sure parents remain alert.
Make sure to scope things out – read posted signs, check for ladders and entry/exit points in the water and take note of your surroundings before getting into any body of water.
Also The American Red Cross says that the number one way to keep kids safe around water is to enroll them in swim lessons.
Q: For children who can’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers what are your thoughts about using flotation devices such as inner tubes, water wings, or safety vests in the water?
A: Know that floaties, noodles and plastic inner tubes do NOT protect against drowning. They are created as water toys, not life-saving devices. Remember that lifejackets and other flotation devices do not replace the involvement of a parent. That being said, lifejackets can be essential water-safety tools when used in addition to adult supervision, but be sure to check that they are U.S. Coast Guard approved.
Q: Are there any specific skills or things to be aware of when swimming in a natural body of water like an ocean or lake compared to a pool?
A: At the beach, it’s important for parents to notice any boundaries and be sure to wade through the water to find any drop-offs and what the bottom of the water is like. Always be aware of your surroundings and teach your kids to do the same. Oceans will have a rip current from time to time. Talk to a certified lifeguard at the beach to understand how to swim out of a rip current. Lakes/ponds and rivers will often times have rocks and growth on the bottom. Make sure you keep your feet and hands away from the rocks and growth so that you don’t get stuck.
Q: Are there any water safety rules for kids that parents tend to ignore or not be aware of? What are some hazards to be aware of and avoid when on vacation?
A: It’s easy for parents to get distracted. Always have a designated Water Watcher to ensure that someone is responsible for supervision at all times.
Pay attention to posted swim times and warning signs. The times may be when lifeguards are on duty or when the pool is open. Warning signs may be to alert you to hazards, dangerous animals/fish or water conditions. Signs are posted for a reason – so heed them.
Kids should understand what the job of a lifeguard is and to always respect and follow the instructions provided to them by one.
Q: What approach does Goldfish Swim School take to assure kids have the knowledge to be safer in the water?
A: At Goldfish, water safety is our number one priority and safety skills are included in our weekly lessons. In addition to the skills we teach each week in class, we also devote 4 full weeks to water safety throughout the year and celebrate Water Safety Day each May. These special times are an opportunity for us to further educate children and families about drowning prevention and potentially life-saving procedures.
There are several key safety skills that we teach to all of our students that you can read about on our website. We also help to teach the community about our W.A.T.E.R. safety rules for children through our free Bubbles’ Water Safety Program:
Wear your life jacket!
Act. Throw! Don’t go.
Take swimming lessons.
Educate, learn swim safety skills.
Respect, play it cool and follow the rules.
Q: Where is your favorite place to go on a family vacation??
A: We have family in California and love visiting Newport Beach where our kids can play in the ocean with their cousins.
Whether it is an indoor pool during a winter vacation or an ocean beach on a sunny summer day it is important to always be knowledgeable about water safety and have some basic swimming skills. In addition to the tips provided by Chris, check out the water safety sections on the websites for The American Red Cross and National Safety Council for more information on this important topic. Make sure your family vacations are memorable for the fun times you have in the water rather than because of an unforgettable accident.