My cousin has three daughters, and a pool. He and his wife knew the drowning risks, so when they had kids they made this rule: no going in the backyard without a life jacket on, whether the girls were going in the pool or not. So to tell their parents they wanted to go play outside, they’d chant “Jacket? Jacket?” with their arms held up, looking like chicks in the nest peeping for worms, waiting to have it slipped over their arms and buckled up.
This time of year beaches, lakes, and bayous become populated by vacationing families. Home pools get big use: kids swim and splash around, and teens and parents host parties there. Pools are also drowning hazards, a leading cause of death in children.
Toddlers are at particular risk. They’re explorers, often escaping parents’ attention, scooting out into the yard. If there’s a pool, they’ll bend down to touch the water, and tumble in. Toddlers don’t know how to get their head above water; security videos invariably show that they don’t thrash about and get attention; they just sink quietly. Pool parties are notorious for child drownings. The adults are drinking and distracted by conversation, it’s dark, and multiple kids are horsing around. The toddler or older child slips under unnoticed. Even for a designated watcher, the temptations to look at more interesting party events, or at the phone, are great. In Germany, their Lifeguard Association noted more child drownings due to parents watching their phones rather than their kids.
The best drowning prevention is not to have a pool. If you must have one, or live by a lake or river, fence the pool on all 4 sides, or fence your kids in from the bayou. Pools accessible by the patio door are particular trouble. Pool alarms and covers also aren’t fail-safe. Swimming lessons may buy your child time to shout for help or get out, but statistics haven’t proven their benefit.
Thus my cousin’s solution to having toddlers and a pool- jackets all the time. Also, one time he visited Alaska and noted that all boat docks have a rack with child life jackets for anyone to borrow. The sign above the rack: Kids Don’t Float.
In 2017 I almost drowned at Grand Isle. I was swimming out to an inflatable island anchored off shore. The waves were up and slapping me around, and I wasn’t a strong swimmer- “suck” best described my aquatic prowess. Fortunately, already lounging on the island was my friend Dayle, a former lifeguard and collegiate swimmer. As I began to flounder and panic, I called out to Dayle, who in seconds was buoying me up and towing me to the float. Since then I’ve taken lessons, and added swimming to my work-outs.
Grand Isle is Louisiana’s only beach resort island. If you like your water and your beach brown, Grand Isle is your vacation destination! Seriously, it’s quite nice there, but they’ve had a spate of recent drownings. The town had constructed some rock breakwaters off the beach. These prevent beach erosion and attract fish, making them great for anglers. Unfortunately, breakwaters also make riptides, dangerous currents that sweep unsuspecting swimmers out to sea. If swimmers panic or aren’t strong, they drown. Two of the drownings involved kids who were fishing from the rocks and fell in. Parents who jumped into save them likewise were lost. Then most recently a family was swimming by the breakwaters, and several of them drowned.
When a swimmer is in a riptide, he’ll try to swim back to the beach. After several strokes, he looks up and notes he’s farther away. Instinctually, he will paddle harder to get to safety. He burns energy swimming harder, only to look up and be even farther. Time is running out.
After the first drowning, Grand Isle installed life rings and rope on posts by each breakwater. Thus if someone falls in, you throw them the ring so they can float, and haul them back in. But this must happen immediately, before the victim gets too far. The posts are 20 yards behind the breakwaters. How long does it take to climb off the rocks, run to the post, run back with the ring, climb back up? And what if you miss on the throw?
Thus kids on these breakwaters should be wearing lifejackets. They should wear them in boats, around pools during parties where everyone is drinking and attention wavers, or anytime they’re in a backyard with a pool. After all, kids don’t float.