KAUFMANN: Summer water safety

Published 9:28 am Monday, June 10, 2019

Once as a young mom, I stopped at a beach in North Carolina after visiting a friend. My oldest child loved the water and ventured out to the edge of some rocks. I watched her from the beach, needing to stay close to her two young brothers.

Suddenly, she disappeared. A fisherman dropped his pole and sprinted into the water. A few terrifying moments later, he was carrying her to shore. “Rip current,” he said.

I was in shock. I had almost lost my daughter.

Summer is a time of year when many of us spend time vacationing near large bodies of water. Because of my heart-stopping experience, I understand the need for water safety education.

Because I am not an expert, I decided to find one. Sammee Schaller, the aquatics director of the YMCA of Southwest Michigan, gave me so much excellent information that I will dedicate the rest of this article to sharing it with you.

Beaches: First and foremost, know your surroundings. Is there a lifeguard on duty? Regardless, never let children go into the water by themselves. As cliché as it may sound, swimming with a buddy is very important in case you get tired or swim too far out.

One of the most dangerous things that can happen to anyone are rip currents — powerful currents of water moving away from shore. If caught in a rip current, keep these tips in mind: don’t fight the current; swim out of the current and then to shore; if you can’t escape, float or tread water; and if you need help, call or wave for assistance. 

And last but not least: if you are in doubt, don’t go out.

Rivers: Before tubing or kayaking down a river, ask questions to learn out about its speed and terrain. A lot of times, rivers will have fast currents that can take you under. The more you fight a current, the more dangerous it can be and the more tired you become.

Lakes: With lakes, it is important to know the depths. If buoys are present, do not go swimming past them because they usually mark a boating zone. If you are boating, have a life jacket for each passenger and make sure the driver has a boating license.

Swimming pools: Make sure you know where the drop to the deep end occurs. If you own the pool, mark this drop with a shallow-end rope, especially if you host pool parties. Not everyone knows how to swim, even though many will say they do.

If you have a diving board, make sure only one person jumps off at a time. Spinal accidents happen when people jump on top of each other or dive into shallow water.

Learning to swim is one of the best things we can do to stay safe near water. The YMCA offers many different kinds of swim lessons: group, private, semi-private, at Diamond Lake and even in your own backyard!

To learn more about these lessons or to sign up, contact the YMCA or email Sammee at sschaller@ymcaswm.com.

Chrissie Kaufmann is a group fitness instructor at the YMCA of Southwest Michigan.