In vacation season, what’s better than a day in the water? Whether you’re taking a dip in the pool, launching a kayak, riding in a boat or swimming at the shore, taking a few simple safety precautions can help make sure you, your friends and your family stay safe.
The biggest risk of water-related activities is drowning. Each year in the U.S., nearly 4,000 people die from drowning each year—about 11 a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another 8,000 people experience a non-fatal drowning annually.
“In addition, we see an increase in many other water-related injuries each summer, from scrapes, cuts and breaks to more serious concerns like head and spine injuries,” says Alexander Sarenac, MD, an emergency medicine physician with Atlantic AdvancED Urgent Care in Mountain Lakes.
Six smart ways to make the most of your water days and avoid a trip to the emergency department or urgent care:
1. Avoid horseplay.
“If you lose your footing on any slippery area, you can slip and fall, or you may fall into the pool or a body of water,” Dr. Sarenac says. Don’t let children or teens run around the sides of the pool, on a wet dock or on other soaked surfaces. Don’t push or dunk your friends.
2. Know the depth of the water.
All pools are required to post their depth. Never dive in pools or any body of water that is less than nine feet deep. “Diving into shallow water is associated with serious head and spinal cord injuries,” Dr. Sarenac says.
3. Wear a lifejacket when boating, rafting, water skiing, jet skiing or fishing.
Lifejackets on children and adults should be snug while still allowing you a full range of movement. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 83% of all people killed in boating-related drownings in the U.S. in 2021 were not wearing a life jacket. Another good tip: “Wear appropriate footwear, such as water shoes when swimming or kayaking in lakes, rivers and streams,” Dr. Sarenac says.
4. Bring a friend.
Don’t swim, kayak, boat or engage in other water activities alone. Whenever possible, only swim in the presence of a lifeguard at the beach or the pool. If no lifeguard is present, make sure a responsible adult supervises any water activity.
5. Limit alcohol consumption.
High blood alcohol levels increase risk-taking behavior and impair balance, coordination and judgment. The CDC reports that alcohol use is involved in 70% of water-related deaths, nearly 1 in 4 emergency department visits for drowning, and about 1 in 5 reported boating deaths. Alcohol can also dehydrate you, raising your risk for heat-related illnesses like heatstroke on the hottest of days.
6. Take some lessons.
Swimming lessons can help children and adults improve their abilities in the water. Another smart idea: Learn basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) so you can help save a life in a critical situation.
If you or someone you know suffers a scrape, break or bruise on the water, a trip to urgent care is in order. “If there’s a problem with suspected drowning or a head injury that causes loss of consciousness or confusion, call 911,” Dr. Sarenac says.