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Water-Safety 101: Basic Guidelines

Every year, thousands of Americans are injured or killed in boating and swimming accidents. You can protect yourself and your family from such accidents by following these guidelines.

Boating safety

  • Check weather and water conditions before leaving shore.

  • Do not drink and boat. Alcohol is a factor in many boating accidents. Choose a designated boat driver who will not drink.

  • Insist that everyone wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device or life jacket while on board.

  • Always tell someone where you'll be boating, when you expect to be back and what your boat looks like.

  • Keep Coast Guard-approved visual distress devices, such as pyrotechnic red flares, orange distress flags or lights on board.

  • Do not carry more passengers than the maximum listed on the boat's capacity plate.

Home-pool safety

Here's how to keep your family safe:

  • Enclose your pool with a fence, wall or other barrier at least 4 feet tall. Install self-latching gates that open outward.

  • Do not assume your child can swim. Many youngsters forget how to swim when panicked.

  • Keep a portable phone in the pool area and program emergency contacts on its speed dial.

  • Keep a close eye on children and non-swimmers who are using inflatable toys, inner tubes and mattresses. They could slide off them and drown.

  • Closely supervise children when they are diving or jumping in the pool. Head and back injuries are likely to occur during these activities.

  • Keep the pool's deck area clear of tripping hazards, such as toys, dishes, hoses and the like.

  • Review safety measures and rules with guests before they swim.

Safety musts for children

  • Never leave a young child alone in a bathtub, wading pool, swimming pool, lake or river. If you must answer the phone or get a towel, take the child with you.

  • Be aware of backyard pools in your neighborhood or apartment building; your child could wander off and fall in.

  • Enroll children in swimming lessons taught by qualified instructors. But remember, the lessons won't make children "drown-proof."

  • Teach your older children that they risk drowning when they overestimate their swimming ability or underestimate water depth.

Safety musts for adults

  • Take swimming lessons from a qualified instructor if you're not a strong, competent swimmer.

  • Don't swim if you've been drinking alcohol.

  • Don't swim alone or allow others to do so.

  • Stay out of the water during thunderstorms and other severe weather. During lightning storms, seek shelter away from metal objects, open areas and large, lone trees.

  • Don't exceed your swimming ability. Know your limits and stick to them.

  • Check the water level before diving into a pool, ocean, pond, reservoir or lake. Always dive with your arms extended firmly over your head and your hands together.

  • Don't dive into unknown bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, quarries or irrigation ditches. Jump feet first to avoid hitting your head (and breaking your neck or back) on a shallow bottom, hidden rock or other obstruction.