Swimming in an open body of water (like a river, lake, or ocean) is different from
swimming in a pool. Even
kids who are good swimmers need to take care.
First, teach kids never to swim alone. Tell them that using the buddy system means
there's always someone looking out for you. When people swim together, they can help
each other or go for help in an emergency.
Here are some tips based on the type of water:
At Lakes and Ponds
Don't let kids swim without adult supervision. Lakes or ponds might be shallow
near the bank, but get deep quickly away from shore.
Ponds and lakes may hide jagged rocks, broken glass, trash, and weeds and grass
that could entangle a leg or arm.
Be mindful of potentially dangerous wildlife, such as snakes and alligators.
Make sure kids wear foot protection. In the water, they should wear aqua socks
or water shoes.
Most boating accidents, particularly among teens, are alcohol-related. Any boat
outing should include a designated driver who won't drink. Be sure teens know about
the dangers of alcohol, on and off
In bad weather, they should get out of the water right away.
Don't let kids swim without adult supervision, preferably where a lifeguard is
They shouldn't swim close to piers or pilings because sudden water movements may
push swimmers into them.
The beach has special dangers like currents and tides. Look for posted signs about
rip currents, jellyfish warnings, surfing restrictions, and other hazards. Also ask
the lifeguard about the water conditions.
Don't allow kids to swim in large waves or undertows. Tell them never to stand
with their back to the water because a sudden wave can knock them over.
Teach kids that if they're caught in a rip current or undertow, they should swim
parallel to the shore or should tread water and call for a lifeguard's help.
The stings of jellyfish or Portuguese
man-of-wars can be painful, so tell kids to watch out for them in the water and to
tell an adult right away if they're stung.
In bad weather, they should get out of the water right away. If there's lightning,
the lifeguards will close the beach.
At Water Parks
Water parks can be a lot of fun for kids, but safety rules apply there too.
Make sure the park uses qualified lifeguards.
Read all posted signs before letting your child on any rides. Many have age, height,
weight, or health requirements.
Know which rides are appropriate for your child's age and development. For instance,
keep little kids in safe areas away from older kids' splashing and roughhousing.
Water depth and strength can vary among rides and features. Wave pools can quickly
go from calm to rough, putting even good swimmers in over their head.
Teach your kids to follow all rules and directions, such as walking instead of
running and always going down the water slide in the right position — feet-first
A Coast-Guard approved life jacket is a good idea too.
Boating and Jet Skis
When boating, the captain or person handling the boat should be sober, experienced,
and competent. One third of boating deaths are alcohol-related. Because there are
no road signs or lane markers on the water and the weather can be unpredictable, it's
important to think quickly and react well under pressure. If someone is drinking,
this can be almost impossible.
Use proper-fitting, Coast Guard-approved flotation devices (life vests). Check
the weight and size recommendations on the label, then have your child try it on to
make sure it fits snugly. For kids younger than 5 years old, choose a vest with a
strap between the legs and head support — the collar will keep the child's head
up and face out of the water. Inflatable vests and arm devices such as water wings
are not effective protection against drowning.
If you allow your child or teen to use jet skis or personal watercraft, follow
the same rules as for boating. Also check the laws in your area about the use of personal
watercraft. Some states won't allow people under a certain age to operate them; others
require people to take a course or pass a test before they can ride one.
What Else Should I Know?
Water temperature is important. Enter the water slowly and make sure it feels comfortable
for you and your kids. A temperature below 70°F (20°C) is cold to most swimmers.
Recommended water temperatures vary depending on the activity and a swimmer's age:
In general, 82°F–86°F (28°C–30°C) is comfortable for
recreational swimming for children.
Babies are more comfortable when the water is on the warmer side of this temperature
Body temperature drops more quickly in water than on land. It doesn't take long
for hypothermia (when the body loses heat faster than it can make it) to set in. Get
a child who's shivering or has muscle cramps out of the water right away.