by DR. JOY JACKSON
As the temperature begins to rise outside and the water begins to heat up, Florida residents enjoy the summer days and nights by the water. Whether it be the backyard pool, a local lake, or the ocean, swimming and boating are two of the most popular summer activities for people living in or visiting Florida. Although these activities can be a fun way to enjoy the summer months, it’s also important to take precautions and practice good safety measures around the water.
Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages one through four. Florida also has the highest rate of child drownings under the age of five in the nation. Polk County’s child drowning fatality rate remains higher than the state average with approximately six drowning deaths in 2018.
With over 500 lakes in Polk County, our residents spend a significant amount of time in and around the water. Because many are so comfortable near the water, residents may have a false sense of security. It is very important for all Florida residents to be aware of water safety tips to keep a fun family outing from turning into a tragedy.
Drowning is a silent and deadly killer. It can occur within the small amount of time it takes an adult to check their phone, read a page in a magazine, or run inside for a towel. With the majority of drownings in Polk occurring in residential swimming pools, actively watching children while in the pool is the first line of defense against a drowning accident. Take children with you if the phone should ring or if you should need something from inside the house. Designate one adult to watch the children while they are in the pool; this adult should be 100% distraction-free which means no socializing with other adults, no chores, and no talking/texting on their cell phone. Children should never be in the pool area unaccompanied by an adult.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages four years old and older learn to swim to prevent drowning. Encourage children, adolescents, and adults to learn to swim. However, remember that swimming lessons are not a substitute for supervision! For information about swimming lessons offered in the Polk County area, visit the Department of Health in Polk County’s website at polk.floridahealth.gov.
Learn CPR for youth and adults, especially if you own a pool. It only takes 4-6 minutes without oxygen to cause lasting brain damage. Valuable life-saving seconds can be lost if waiting for EMS to arrive before beginning CPR. In the case of an emergency, it is critical to have a phone nearby to dial 911. Reaching or throwing aids should also be readily available around the pool.
Having a barrier between the house and pool could help to reduce the instances of drowning accidents by 50-80%. Examples of barriers include child-proof locks on all doors, a 4-sided fence (at least 5 feet tall) separating the pool from the house, gates with self-latching/self-closing mechanisms, and door alarms.
When boating, make sure that all passengers are fitted with the appropriately sized life jacket. The US Coast Guard requires all children ages 13 and under to wear a personal floatation device any time they are on a recreational water vehicle. Obey all signs while on the water and keep a close eye out for other boaters and swimmers. In addition to this, remember that drinking alcohol while boating will impair one’s judgement and reaction times. Drinking and boating is considered drinking and driving.
Swimming can be a great way to enjoy Florida’s natural scenery and escape the heat that accompanies summer. It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our children, and of ourselves, when in and around the water. For more information related to drowning prevention and resources, please visit polk.floridahealth.gov or waterprooffl.com.