Water Safety 101: Tips for Keeping Your Family Safe During Summer Swim Season

On May 26, 14-year-old Jamil Foster, a metro Detroiter, was canoeing with family friends in Oscoda Township, Mich. when he fell into the Au Sable River and drowned.

The teen, who was not wearing a life jacket at the time, stood up to free his canoe from a sandbar when the canoe capsized and he fell in, wrote journalist Darrell Dawsey – whose family was with Jamil on the river that day – in a memoir on Deadline Detroit. Despite efforts to reach out to him, the current was too strong and the water was too cold, Dawsey wrote.

Summer across Michigan – particularly southeast Michigan – often means families partake in water-related recreational activities on the Great Lakes, inland lakes, rivers and in pools.

But fun on the water can also mean the risk of injury – especially when it comes to children and teens. Jamil's story is a heart-wrenching reminder of how important it is for families to stay safe in the water.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger." From 2005 to 2009, there was an average of 3,533 drowning deaths in the United States each year, with about 347 additional deaths involving boating incidents, it adds.

Scarier yet, the highest drowning rates are among children 1 to 4 years old. Drowning is the leading cause of death in children in that age range – aside from birth defects, the CDC notes. In kids and teens 1 to 14 years old, "drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes."

Tips for water safety

In order to keep children safe from water-related accidents, "parents definitely need to be involved," says Brandon Munoz, American Red Cross territory aquatics specialist for Michigan's eastern region.

Munoz says for all water activity, "we always support that you should never be alone," and "never leave (children) unattended."

"Parents especially," he notes, "should be at least an arm's length away" from their children at all times around water – whether in the backyard pool or in a lake.

Children should also be fitted for a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. If the jackets are not the correct size, "they can become more of a risk than a benefit," Munoz warns.

If someone does fall off the boat or slips underwater while swimming, there are a few important steps to take. "If you have something you can reach out or throw to that person" like an oar or a floatation device, Munoz says, try using that. Don't put yourself at risk by entering the water, he notes. And if you do happen to be alone? "Call for help," he says.

If a child is missing, the Red Cross stresses to check the water first. "Seconds count in preventing death or disability," it notes.

For teens who might be swimming with friends or on trips without their parents, Munoz advises to "think before you act," and make sure the situation you're in "is a safe one." If you can't see the bottom when you're at a lake, river or pool, "it's probably not safe," Munoz adds.

Additional tips

The American Red Cross offers additional materials online that parents should check out on water safety, too. Here's what it advises on its website:

  • Swim only in the designated area(s) that are supervised by lifeguards.
  • Know how to call 911.
  • Have equipment ready for reaching or throwing.
  • Have a cellphone and first-aid kit available.

The CDC also suggests:

  • Know that toys filled with air do not work as safety devices.
  • Keep your pool area clear of water and deck toys.
  • Put proper barriers around your pool, like a fence at least 4 feet tall that self-closes and latches.
  • If you're at the beach, obey the colored flags.

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Water Safety 101: Tips for Keeping Your Family Safe During Summer Swim Season
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