Hitting the beach or floating down the river are popular ways to cool off as temperatures spike in the summer season. People who do not swim regularly lack familiarity and comfort with swimming, which leads to increased risks. Each year, there is at least one accidental drowning in Vermont. This year we have already lost one Vermonter to a tragic swimming accident at the Bolton Potholes.
Learn to swim. You can learn to swim at any age, and lessons start for those as young as 6 months old. Check in with the local YMCA and American Red Cross for swimming lessons, water safety courses, and lifeguard training near you. Use a Coast Guard-approved life preserver until you are confident swimming without one.
Swim sober. It may seem as if a few drinks would make your swimming outing more fun, but alcohol clouds judgement. It will slow reaction time and can make you more likely to make jeopardizing decisions while swimming. Understand your own limits; do not drink alcohol or use recreational drugs while swimming.
Never swim alone. Ideally, you should swim in a supervised area. Even with a lifeguard around, it is best to have a “buddy” who is strong swimmer. It is paramount that children are observed at all times while in the water. In a swimming outing with kids, appoint an adult to be the “water watcher.” Drowning happens swiftly and often is silent. Pay attention.
Choose your swimming spot carefully. Swimming areas, like those at Vermont State Parks, are ideal. Stay within the designated swim areas. Avoid natural waters—rivers or streams with moving current—if possible. Especially avoid swimming above or below waterfalls or in other areas where the current can be unpredictable.
Check the water and weather conditions. Following heavy rain and for days after, the water can move fast and change unexpectedly. Even in a familiar swimming spot, boulders or logs may have shifted under water, in ways that create suction. Even the strongest swimmers can get trapped.
Enter the water feet first. Jumping in a well-known spot is no guarantee, as water levels can change drastically. Jumping from heights can cause trauma upon impact with the water, cold water can trigger a gasp reflex and water inhalation, and you may find that there is a lack of accessible exit from the water after you jump. Enter the water the traditional way first, by walking in to check the depth, temperature and assess for other hazards. If there is any doubt of the water depth, don’t jump.
Additional water-safety tips are available at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/bam/safety/water-safety.htm.
A safe summer relies on smart decision-making. Be sure to use these tips to ensure fun-filled and memorable swimming adventures for you and your family in the summers to come.
Crystal Labbe-Hasty, PA, is an advanced practice provider at SVMC ExpressCare/Respiratory Evaluation Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.