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YMCA offers summer swimming safety advice

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BY Beth Kempf

Oldham County Family YMCA Aquatics Director

Sometime this summer, almost everyone in this community will be in or near the water, and most people will have a safe and healthy time.

Swimming and other water-related activities are excellent ways to get the physical activity needed for a healthy life. Just two and a half hours of swimming or water aerobics a week can provide basic fitness. Water-based physical activity also improves adults’ ability to carry out everyday activities.

However, it is important to be aware of ways to prevent accidents that can occur. Children swimming without proper supervision, visiting pools that are not correctly managed and too much sunshine can be recipes for disaster.

How big is the problem? According to national statistics from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control:

From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about 10 deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.

About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Those statistics are frightening, but you don’t need to be afraid of the water if you and your loved ones learn basic swimming and safety measures. The main factors are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use and seizure disorders.

Lack of Swimming Ability

Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.

Lack of Barriers

Barriers, such as pool fencing, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. 

Lack of Close Supervision

Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water (such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets), and even in the presence of lifeguards.

Failure to Wear Life Jackets: In 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,604 boating incidents; 3,153 boaters were reported injured, and 672 died. Most boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88 percent of victims not wearing life jackets.

Alcohol Use

Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation.

There are many ways to improve your and your family’s safety around the water.

Supervise When in or Around Water Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of young children should be close enough to reach the child at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present.

Learn to Swim Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water, and barriers, such as pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access, are still important.

Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone’s life.

Also, remember that air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices.

Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings,” “noodles” or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets.

And most importantly, avoid alcohol while in or around the water.

The YMCA of Greater Louisville continues to help youth and adults experience the joy and benefits of swimming, so they can be healthy, confident and secure in the water. At the Oldham County Family YMCA in Buckner, there are a variety of programs to choose from, including group and parent-child swim lessons, family swim and competitive swimming. To ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate, financial assistance is available to those in need help to cover the costs.

Staff members of the YMCA will be submitted guest columns on a variety of topics.

To reach Beth Kempf, please call 587-9622. To learn more about the YMCA of Greater Louisville swim programs, visit ymcalouisville.org.