Water is quite possibly the most important substance on planet Earth. Without it, life could not exist.
It’s also plenty of fun!
Pools, lakes, and the ocean are all associated with leisure, but the truth is that pools are one of the most dangerous additions to any home. Every year scores of children and adults die in pools. Natural bodies of water such as lakes or oceans aren’t much different—one moment of inattention or a lack of preparation can lead to drowning or other serious injuries.
While there is no such thing as perfect safety, you can minimize the chances of the worst happening by being properly prepared.
Learn to Swim!
This may seem obvious, but plenty of people go out on the water each year without the ability to swim or at least tread water well. Before you take up a water-based hobby or go on a trip that takes you out on the water, it’s a good idea to take swimming lessons.
If you have children that will also be taking part, it’s doubly important that they learn to swim well enough to get out of trouble should anything go wrong with your fun. You may think that you’re a strong swimmer, but even so, you should consider being assessed by an instructor to determine in a more objective way how well you move in the water.
You should also be aware of your own limitations, not just in general, but on particular days. If you’re fatigued, sick, or otherwise not 100%, take that into consideration when planning your swimming activity. It also goes without saying that varying environmental factors will impact your ability to swim well.
If you act quickly enough, it’s often possible to save someone from a drowning death by using cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean much if no one knows how to do it!
Of course, professional lifeguards are trained in exactly this, but plenty of people engage in water-based leisure activities where no lifeguards can see or reach them. That’s why it’s worth taking a course in CPR—it’s useful in plenty of situations, not only for drowning scenarios.
Also keep in mind that the emergency procedures for someone who has drowned differ somewhat from someone who needs CPR for other reasons. So, make sure you cover emergency assistance specifically for drowning in addition to the more general methods.
Keep a First Aid Kit
Whether it’s at home near the pool, on your boat, or in your beach bag, it’s important to always have the appropriate first aid kit at hand.
While most people think of drowning as the primary danger of water-based activities, there’s a lot more that can go wrong. Slips, falls, lacerations, bites, and many other hazards are part and parcel of being in or around the water.
Furthermore, if you visit a place that has, for example, a specific type of jellyfish, then it makes sense to keep treatment materials on hand in case you or a companion are stung.
Sunburn and Dehydration
Two more often-overlooked issues are sunburn and dehydration. Since the water cools us down, it is easy to forget that you can still burn in the sun or become dehydrated despite having all that water around. So, make a point of always using waterproof sunscreen and having plenty of fresh drinking water on hand.
Always Use the Buddy System
Plenty of water-related incidents could have been averted if the people involved had not been alone at the time. If you’re going to swim or be in the water away from other people, you should never do it alone. Instead, make sure that at least one other person is with you and that you watch out for each other.
When you are using a public facility with professional lifeguards, make sure that you’re always within sight of them—they can’t save you if they don’t know you’re in trouble. You should also call for help as soon as you think you might be in trouble. Don’t try to push it!
Always Use a Life Vest
In a way, people who consider themselves strong swimmers may actually put themselves in more danger than those who don’t, simply because such people are less likely to wear life vests.
The truth is that everyone should be wearing a life vest at all times in and around the water. No matter how well you can swim or how healthy you are, accidents happen all the time, and even you can become tired and unable to swim further or tread water.
If you’re a swimmer who would be impeded by a traditional vest, it might be a good idea to have someone accompany you on a powered boat so that they can assist you in case something goes wrong while you’re training.
Do a Safety Audit on Your Pool
Swimming pools are a leading cause of household deaths, especially when it comes to children, adults under the influence of alcohol, and the elderly.
Many of these deaths can be prevented by having a pool that’s properly prepped to prevent accidental death. Here are some key issues that you should take into account when assessing the safety of your pool:
- Fences and other physical barriers are essential!
- Use a net or a cover when the pool is not in regular use.
- Consider installing one or more pool safety alarms.
- Make sure there aren’t any trees, ladders, or other objects that a child could use to scale the fence.
- Self-latching gates that open outward are considered better for safety.
- Always make sure that the area surrounding the pool has no objects that could cause someone to trip and fall in the water.
- The deck surrounding the pool’s edge should be grippy, to prevent people from slipping when the area is wet.
Some people have even suggested installing a cordless phone with a list of emergency numbers in the pool area, although in the modern age of smartphones this isn’t quite as strong a safety tip as it might have been in the past.
Boats are Not Toys
Most of the people reading this site are interested in a boat as a leisure vehicle. However, just because you are using the boat to have a good time and relax does not make it a harmless RC toy. Just like any other vehicle, a boat can cause serious injury or death if misused.
The single most important safety rule, at least in my opinion, is to never mix alcohol and boating. It’s also one of the hardest ones for people to stick to.
The problem is that operating a boat under the influence of alcohol can be disastrous. Even people who are simply passengers run the risk of falling overboard. Inebriated individuals are also, of course, much more likely to drown if they do go overboard.
That’s just another reason why everyone on your boat should wear life jackets! Additionally, the boat should always have the recommended safety equipment on it. This includes devices, such as flares, that can help rescuers easily spot you on the water.
The other major issue is overloading. Boats have a maximum capacity rating; it should never be exceeded since that would make the entire vehicle unsafe.
Finally, boats should only be operated by people who are qualified to do so. While not every country requires training or licensing to operate certain classes of boat, that doesn’t mean it’s a smart idea to take the controls of a boat you don’t have the knowledge or experience to pilot safely.
Stormy weather can turn an otherwise relatively safe water environment into a deathtrap. These days it’s possible to look up exact weather conditions predicted for that day. If the weather forecast looks bad, strongly reconsider going out on the water that day.
Regardless of what the forecast says, if you arrive at the location and the weather looks bad, don’t go ahead with your plans. It’s not worth it.
The one thing about water that often catches people off guard is how unpredictable it is. Calm rivers can suddenly flood or lead to rapids (as most kayakers know), and ocean currents can sweep you away in a moment.
If the weather is not ideal, the water itself can do things you’d never expect, and at speeds that may surprise you. Every year people are caught off guard by flash floods, stormy weather, and other nasty surprises nature has in store for us.
Co-existing with Wildlife and Nature
With the exception of humanmade water spaces such as swimming pools, you are sharing a wild space with other members of the animal kingdom as well as various flora. There are two sides to this: the safety of humans and the safety of other living things.
If you are entering a space with dangerous wild animals, it’s imperative to be guided by someone who is qualified to deal with them. After all, you’d hardly go off on a safari by yourself with lions and elephants around, so why would you enter the water lacking guidance and knowledge?
In addition, it’s very important to do some research on the types of dangerous animals and plants you may encounter in a particular place. What are their behaviors? Are any of them poisonous or venomous? Who can you phone in an emergency? Being prepared to encounter animals and plants that may harm you is an essential part of water safety.
At the same time, it’s up to you to refrain from interfering with animals going about their business or from damaging plants that may be essential to the local ecosystem.
The Most Important Safety Tip
You shouldn’t be put off by all the things that could go wrong during your time in or around the water, but it’s crucial to be aware of and prepared for those rare times when an emergency arises.
While you need to mentally list the safety issues for each unique situation or activity, there is one universal water safety tip—never take the water for granted!