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12 pool safety tips from a former lifeguard

Few things are as symbolic of summer as sparkling blue swimming pools shimmering in the sun. Public and residential pools alike hold the promise of a fun-filled day for the kids — and the chance to relax a little for adults. But that good day can turn tragic in an instant. And while it’s not something we like to think about, it’s necessary to take some basic precautions to avoid the unthinkable. As a former lifeguard, I want to share a dozen of my best tips for staying safe when you’re having fun at the pool:

  1. Never leave a child unattended in or near water, even if s/he can swim or is wearing a personal floatation device. Know that drowning doesn’t look like drowning in the movies! It happens fast and often silently.
  2. Teach kids to swim as early as possible. Look for swim classes in your area if you’re not sure where to start. Even toddlers can be taught basic maneuvers like rolling over and floating on their backs, which can give an adult a crucial extra minute to get to them if they fall in the water.
  3. Make sure all floatation devices you plan to use for kids who can’t yet swim are US Coast Guard approved. While those water wings look really cute, they provide a false sense of security and won’t keep a child’s head out of the water if needed.
  4. Walk! Running and wet pool decks don’t mix!
  5. Never dive head first into water that is less than five feet deep or that you can’t see through. Head and neck injuries are serious and can leave you handicapped for life.
  6. Teach kids to stay away from drains, and make sure any pool you’re at has compliant drain covers. The suction can be so strong in a pool or hot tub drain that even an adult may not be able to pull away from it.
  7. Apply a water resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every two hours and after swimming or sweating and toweling off. Find more tips on choosing a sunscreen here. Protect your face and eyes, too! The water reflects sunlight up, making sunburns happen easily. Apply sunscreen to all areas of your face, neck, ears, and exposed scalp. Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays, and wear a hat with a wide brim.
  8. Stay out of the water if it thunders. If you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough for lightening to strike conductors of electricity — like pools, trees, and metal shelters. Stay out of the water for at least 15 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.
  9. If you have a pool in your yard, install proper barriers, covers, and alarms.
  10. Keep glass containers away from pools. Shattered glass is difficult to clean up on pool decks and can get lodged in feet or slice through pool liners.
  11. If you have an open wound, cover it with a waterproof dressing or stay out of the water. Having an open wound puts you at greater risk of getting an infection, and puts others at risk of getting an infection from you.
  12. Know how to perform CPR, or at least rescue breathing, on both adults and kids. Your local Red Cross may offer classes in your area.

In addition to these basic tips, if you’re at a public pool, remember to listen to the lifeguard on duty and don’t distract a lifeguard who is monitoring the water. Lifeguards are specially trained to keep people safe in and around water and save lives if needed. If your need or question is not an emergency, look for a lifeguard who isn’t watching the water, or another staff member, to assist you.

Keep safety in mind, and have fun in the summer sun!