With so many amazing lakes, rivers and swimming holes, Vermont and Northern New York are filled with opportunities to go boating, swimming or tubing. However, it’s important to always keep safety in mind while you’re out having fun on the water.
A common myth is that drowning is obvious. However, the truth is drowning usually happens quickly and silently. In fact, 60 percent of youth drownings occur within 10 feet of safety, and 88 percent of children who drown are under some form of supervision.
Whether swimming with adults or with children, always have a designated person whose only responsibility is to watch those in the water. Your Water Watcher should not be reading a book on the shore or browsing on their phone – they should never take their eyes off those in or around the water, to make sure they are ready to act. Remember to have your Water Watchers switch off throughout the day, to make sure the person on duty is focused and alert.
Pool Safety Tips
- Fence off your pool on all sides with self-closing and self-latching gates. Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool to prevent children from getting into the water without active supervision.
- It is never too early or too late to learn how to swim. Enroll yourself or your children in swim lessons with an experienced swim instructor.
- Pool toys, like floaties and noodles, are fun, but they are not life saving devices. Inexperienced or non-swimmers should be fitted with a life jacket, and wear it every time they are in or around water.
Lake, River and Swimming Hole Safety Tips
- Weather conditions can change rapidly. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and on the sky for signs of storm clouds and high winds. Heavy rain and drought can change currents and water depths and affect underwater structures (such as debris).
- Bring a rope or other safety equipment with you, as most natural swimming areas do not have rescue equipment. If someone is struggling, throw them a life jacket or rope. Do not go into the water to save them.
- Avoid cliff jumping. You may be unaware of objects below the surface, and the force of hitting the water alone can result in spinal cord injuries, fractures, concussion or even death.
Boating Safety Tips
- Before leaving the dock, know how to properly use all the safety equipment in the boat.
- Life jackets for everyone! Be sure each person on the boat (motorized or non-motorized) has a properly fitting, Coast Guard-approved life jacket, rated for the appropriate weight. Even if you are a strong swimmer, a life jacket can still help save your life.
- In most places, children are required by law to have a life jacket on while boats are in motion, and it’s a good idea to keep them on even if a boat is stopped.
- Stay hydrated, especially if you are in charge of driving the boat. Avoid alcoholic beverages until you are docked and back on shore.
Shallow Water Blackout
Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) is an underwater loss of consciousness due to a lack of oxygen to the brain, brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time. Without immediate rescue, the swimmer will quickly drown. It is often attributed to playing games in the water, such as challenges to see who can swim underwater the longest or seeing who can hold their breath the longest.
It is also a real risk for experienced divers who do breathing exercises in the water. It doesn’t need to be deep water for SWB to be a risk.
For more information about shallow water blackout, visit the Live Like Benjo Foundation.
Water Safety Resources
Vermont Water Safety Action Committee
The Safe Kids Vermont and the Vermont Child Fatality Review Team’s joint Water Safety Action Committee is working to mitigate the risks impacting Vermont youth and families by identifying and addressing gaps in resources, education, and opportunity. Learn more about their efforts - read the 2022 Report of Water Safety in Vermont.
Interested in joining the committee? E-mail VTSafeKids [at] UVMHealth.org