Spotlight on Health: Safety and Water Activities

LoungingAs we approach Memorial Day weekend, it’s important to discuss some easy ways to keep your family and loved ones safe as you enjoy the holiday. No doubt you may find yourself catching some rays at the beach or by the pool as you take in the lovely pre-summer weather. With that in mind, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention marks the week preceding Memorial Day as Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week to prepare potential participants in water activity for a safe experience. Here are some quick things to keep in mind as you relax by the shore or on the deck  this weekend.

Lots of germs can be spread through water activities. Just swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated water in locations from pools to splash parks, or lakes to oceans has the potential to get you sick. Even in chlorine treated environments, some germs are just too resilient for these sorts of treatments to be 100% effective. As such, there are few simple things one can make sure to do to lessen everyone’s chances of becoming ill. The CDC suggests the following on their website:

Keep the poop, germs, and pee out of the water.

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
  • Shower with soap before you start swimming.
    • Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
  • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.

  • Pools: Proper chlorine (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power.
  • Hot tubs/spas: Proper disinfectant level (chlorine [2–4 parts per million or ppm]) or bromine [4–6 ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) maximize germ-killing power.
  • Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips.
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in.

Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:

  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.
    • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.¹

Another important thing to remember about water activities is the risk of drowning. If you have a child between the age of 1 and 4, this is especially important to take note of, as drowning is the leading cause of injury death for that age group. Victims that manage to survive may never be the same, often experiencing brain damage from the ordeal. Being aware of easy ways to prevent this sort of accident is the first way to ensure the safety of your loved ones. Consider the following suggestions for prevention of drowning:

Keep swimmers safe in the water.

  • Make sure everyone knows how to swim.
  • Use life jackets appropriately.
  • Provide continuous, attentive supervision close to swimmers.
  • Know CPR (for older children and adults).

Prevent access to water when pool is not in use.

  • Install and maintain barriers like 4-sided fencing and weight-bearing pool covers.
  • Use locks/alarms for windows and doors.¹

Along with these tips, it may be useful to ask yourself to think about whether or not you actually know what drowning looks like. TV and movies have conditioned us to believe that if a person is drowning, they will be thrashing about in the water, waving their arms and yelling for help. More likely, a drowning person may actually exhibit signs of what is called the “Instinctive Drowning Response”, a phrase coined by Dr. Francesco A. Pia, a water safety expert. In Fall 2006, Pia and another gentleman,  Mario Vittone, wrote an article for an issue of On Scene, the journal of the US Coast Guard Search and Rescue, explaining what this response is. The most important points:

  1. The majority of the time, people that are drowning are physiologically incapable of calling out for help; the body is wired to default to its primary respiratory function in a case like this. Breathing will therefore be most important.
  2. The mouth of a drowning person is typically not above water long enough to exhale, draw breath, AND call out; there’s hardly enough time to do the first two before the mouth descends below the surface of the water again.
  3. The natural instinct of a drowning person is not to wave their arms above them, but to press their arms outwards and downwards in an attempt to leverage the sinking body up and out of the water to facilitate proper breathing. Once the drowning process has stopped, the body can again perform voluntary movements like waving for help and grabbing rescue equipment.
  4. While drowning people stay upright in the water, they’re not actually performing any supporting kicks under the water. They might struggle on the surface of the water (exhibiting the responses discussed previously) for about 60 seconds before they go under.²

Pia also makes note of other ways you may notice someone is drowning: closed, glassy or unfocused eyes, mouth low in the water or head tilted back with mouth open for instance².  More signs can be read about here. As always, stay vigilant and alert – if you were hearing laughter and frivolity a few moments ago and all of a sudden it is quiet on the side of your boat, quickly move to figure out why.

For more information and resources about keeping safe this weekend – and all summer – when enjoying yourself near the water, visit the CDC page on Healthy Swimming, and the page on Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention. We hope you enjoy the holiday weekend – we’ll be closed on Monday, so see you on Tuesday.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014. Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week 2014.
2. Medical News Today. 2010. Do You Know What Drowning Looks Like?