During the summer of 2020, families flocked to our Great Lakes to splash and swim. Unfortunately, the summer marked higher than average drownings on lakes Michigan, Ontario and Huron.
“People were searching for things to do that were safe from COVID, and researchers believe the increase in people, the lack of lifeguards and inexperienced swimmers may have all contributed to this spike,” says Liza Brown, regional director of aquatics with YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit. She adds that drowning is the No.1 cause of accidental death in children ages 5 and younger and the risks of drowning are higher in underserved populations who have traditionally had limited access to swim lessons and water safety education.
Michigan boasts the longest freshwater coastline in the world, which is reason enough to recognize potential dangers of bodies of water, regardless of size and depth. “Parents tend to think the deep end of the pool is most dangerous, but research shows that 69% nonswimmer drownings happen in the shallow end,” Brown says.
Now’s a perfect time to focus on water safety, and there are several ways parents can help keep kids safe, Brown says. Read on for some best water safety tips.
Select a designated adult to supervise the kids. Boating and water parks are social and fun for everyone but rather than leave the kids to their own devices, select one or two adults to keep an eye on swimmers and make sure everyone is making safe choices. “Do this even in areas where there are lifeguards,” Brown says. “It’s my personal opinion that the best place for parents to be is in the water and active with their kids.”
Choose floatation devices carefully. “A lot of people believe that all flotation devices are safe but some can even cause more challenges for swimmers,” Brown says. Oversized flamingos and unicorns may be fun for kids to sit on, but can quickly float into deep lake water. “Or, as they rise to the waterline, kids can be trapped under the float and not have enough strength to pull the float up and off. Be very mindful of toys and floats,” she says. YMCA facilities use Coast Guard-approved lifejackets, which are standard across the country for water safety.
Take frequent breaks. This goes for everyone. “A lot of times, drowning occurs when someone becomes too exhausted to get to the side of the pool or close to the shore,” Brown says. And recognize the real danger of double drowning, which happens when a person needing help latches onto someone nearby or the helper doesn’t have the strength to get both to safety. “A standard lifeguard tube is designed to hold the weight of both the lifeguard and the swimmer in distress.”
Everyone should learn to swim. YMCA swim lessons for adults and kids focus on basic safety fundamentals in every class. “Education is something that you will always have and that you can pass on to others,” says Brown. “It’s an important generational cycle that can save lives.”
And who knows? You may love swimming so much, you’ll want to become a swim instructor or a lifeguard at your local YMCA.
“At the YMCA, swim instruction is in our blood. We have been providing swim lessons for more than 100 years and all our swim instructors are certified through our YMCA swim instructor course,” Brown says. “And how cool is this? The very first group swim lesson ever was in 1909 at the Detroit YMCA.”
Learn more about YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit at ymcadetroit.org.