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Lee Health Guest Column | Water safety and drowning prevention tips for all ages

By TINA FLEMING - Special to The Breeze -- Injury prevention specialist and child advocate at Golisano Children’s Hospital | Jul 5, 2024

Southwest Florida is known for its beautiful coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Many people live here to enjoy the water and the weather, which is ideal for most of the year to enjoy a nice swim, boat trip or other water activity. Being vigilant about water safety and drowning prevention will help keep us and our loved ones safe.

More children who are 1 to 4 years old die from drowning than any other cause of death. For children who are 5 to 14 years old, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.

Drownings happen quickly and quietly and can happen to anyone. With layers of protection, awareness and swim lessons, they are also preventable.

Here are some tips and things to keep in mind for adults and children of all ages.

What can someone do to prevent drownings and practice good water safety?

Unless rescued, a drowning person will last only 20 to 60 seconds before submerging.

Here are some things to consider:

n Barriers and alarms where water is present, including gates, locks and fencing

n Close, constant and capable supervision

n Water competency survival skills

n Lifejackets and emergency preparation

n Making sure kids are never swimming alone and designating a water watcher

Children should never swim alone, regardless of their swimming experience. When at a pool or the beach, designate a “water watcher” to keep an eye on children playing in or near the water.

While children are at the highest risk of accidental drownings, everyone is at risk when they’re around the water. Parents and caregivers should know basic water skills as well. These skills can save not only the adult’s life, but they can help save another person’s life as well.

It’s never too late to learn. Adults can take lessons together with their children or as a bonding experience for the whole family. Make it fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. It can also be helpful to look at it as an investment into yourself and your kid’s future.

For more information on available swimming lessons for all ages, please visit www.leegov.com and www.ymcaswfl.org.

When should you teach children how to swim?

Swimming should be a child’s first sport. Enroll children in formal swim lessons, usually around 2 to 4 years old. Consider their age, development and how often they are around water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents hold off on formal swimming lessons until after their child’s first birthday. If you don’t think your child is ready for independent swim lessons, consider a parent-child program that focuses on water games, swimming-readiness skills and safety in and around the pool.

It’s also important to note that in April Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to create a swim lesson voucher program for families with young children in the state of Florida. The establishment of a statewide childhood swim lesson voucher program will help cover swim lessons for families with children under 4 years old who make less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Where can I get a lifejacket if I don’t have one?

After Hurricane Ian destroyed the lifejacket loaner stations along the Lee County coastline, Lee Health and Safe Kids SWFL, Lee County Parks & Recreation and other community partners came together to champion water safety and drowning prevention in Lee County with two new lifejacket loaner stations:

n Bonita Beach Park, 27954 Hickory Blvd., Bonita Springs

n Lover’s Key State Park, 8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach

These loaner stations make it possible for residents and visitors to have access to U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejackets while they enjoy the beach and other area parks. The lifejacket loaner stations, made by Gateway High School’s woodworking students, are now portable, so they can easily be relocated during severe weather or other concerns.

It’s important for a lifejacket to fit snugly. Have kids make a “touchdown” signal by raising both arms straight up. If the lifejacket hits a child’s chin or ears, it may be too big, or the straps may be too loose. A properly fitting lifejacket stays snug around the body, keeping a clear airway for a person if they need to be lifted out of the water.

Where can I learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?

The American Heart Association says hands-only CPR is as effective in the first few minutes as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, work or in public. Hands-only CPR means giving continuous chest compressions without rescue breaths.

If someone you know is having a cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 first.

Administering CPR or hands-only CPR while waiting for help to arrive can save a life. CPR helps keep oxygenated blood circulating to the brain to help preserve neurological function until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can get there.

The Healthy Life Center at Coconut Point offers a “Friends & Family” class at no charge. The hands-only CPR class teaches life-saving skills, including how to use an AED. It’s designed for people who want to learn CPR, but don’t need a CPR course completion card to meet a job requirement.

To find out more, please call 239-468-0050.

Golisano Children’s Hospital also offers a certification course that teaches individuals to respond to and manage illnesses and injuries in a child or infant in the first few minutes until professional help arrives. The course covers first aid, as well as infant and child CPR.

This course is intended for parents, grandparents, child-care providers and/or anyone else who regularly encounters children. The minimum age requirement is 15 years old.

For more information, please call 239-343-5101.

To learn more about water safety and drowning prevention, please visit LeeHealth.org.

Tina Fleming is injury prevention specialist and child advocate at Golisano Children’s Hospital.