Now that the weather has warmed, millions are flocking to beaches and pools to swim in the refreshing cool waters. With this wonderful activity comes the potential danger of drowning.
You can drown in an inch of water. You can drown in less than two minutes. Once the water flows into your lungs, oxygen is no longer able to get to your heart and brain. Without the ability to breathe, serious injury and death can occur.
Fish can breathe in water, but unless they're wearing scuba gear, people cannot.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, more than 4,000 people drowned in 1997, including 964 children. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children.
Most children drown in swimming pools. A parent, sibling or baby-sitter turns away for just a moment, and the next thing they find is a toddler at the bottom of the deep end. Or worse, floating face down at the surface of the water.
While everyone should know CPR, it's not a skill that anyone wants to have to put into use, particularly on a loved one in a panicked state. No one wants to spend a summer day giving a baby its last breath.
So, to make summer more enjoyable, prepare yourself, your family and friends before jumping in the water:
* Learn how to swim. Swimming is one of the best ways to stay healthy and relaxed. It also comes in handy when you're in deep water, or trying to save someone's life. Although some people disagree on this subject, I think it's wise to teach younger children how to swim. Make your children comfortable with the water, and purchase floatation wings and inner tubes for those who are still learning.
* Learn CPR. The Red Cross, local schools, fire departments, health departments and hospitals all teach classes for little or no money. Once you're certified, stay certified. Take a refresher course every two years and update your skills. You never know when you'll be called upon to save someone's life.
* Never leave children unattended. There should always be at least one adult, who isn't distracted by anything else, watching children in the pool. If you're at the beach, make sure there's a lifeguard on duty. Even if there is, pay attention to your children when they are in the water. The lifeguard is a well trained observer, but he/she can only pay attention to so many people at one time.
* Avoid drinking alcohol when sitting by the pool or engaging in water sports. You'll be less observant of your children if your mind is impaired. It's also dangerous, and illegal in most areas, to drink and then drive a boat or jet ski.
* Check the weather reports before going swimming. If there's a storm coming, avoid the water.
* Swim smartly. Don't dive headfirst into three feet of water. Walk, don't run, around pools. Be careful when jumping into the pool, so you don't land on anyone. Obey safety signs. Don't swim in the dark.
* When visiting the ocean, or other large bodies of water, check the caution signs. Avoid swimming when you see postings of sea lice, Portuguese man-of-war, rip currents or sharks.
* If you own a pool, install a four-sided fence around it. Make sure it's at least four feet tall and has locks. This will keep younger children from accidentally falling or wandering into the water. Also, keep a telephone and life preserver nearby.
* Teach your children avoid drinking the water, particularly in public swimming areas. Some children go swimming when they are ill, and can leave dangerous bacteria in the water.
* Wait 30 minutes after you've eaten before swimming. It's not an old wives' tale. Waiting gives your body a chance to digest your food, and helps to avoid cramps.
* If you're in the water and you get a cramp, allow your body to float. Lie on your back and rise to the top of the water. When the panic and pain subsides, tread water for a bit, then head back to shore or to the shallow end of the pool.
* Teach your children the value of honesty. Never allow them to fake calls for help.
Follow these basic safety tips and you'll reduce the chances of drowning in so many ways. Some are expensive, others cost nothing. How much is your child's life worth? Or your own life?