Water sport safety

July 8, 2019 Elizabeth Meade

By Dr. Elizabeth Meade, Swedish Chief of Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospitalist

[2 MIN READ]

With the deaths of 3 paddle boarders in Washington state just this year, and many more drownings, it’s a good time to remind ourselves how to stay safe in the water. Many people are unaware that having a personal flotation device (PFD) like a life jacket is required even when paddle boarding. Wearing a properly fitting PFD makes drowning much less likely if you fall into the water, injure yourself, or have another problem while out on the water. Here are my tips on keeping your family and kids safe in the water.

What is a personal flotation device (PFD)?

A PFD can be a standard life jacket, or a newer version of an inflatable vest or waist pack that is inflated manually with a cord or automatically when submerged in water. Remember that the newer manually-inflated PFDs are not inherently buoyant so if you are injured or become unconscious you may not be able to pull the cord in time. For children under age 16 and non-swimmers, a standard life jacket is recommended. Although water wings, arm floaties, and puddle jumpers are great for learning to swim, they are not intended to function as a life preserver.

Always wear a PFD while participating in any water activities. Some people think that carrying a life jacket on your paddle board or other vessel is enough – but if you are injured or panicked, you may not be able to get it on in time. 

Always wear a PFD while participating in any water activities. Some people think that carrying a life jacket on your paddle board or other vessel is enough – but if you are injured or panicked, you may not be able to get it on in time. Wearing a PFD is the best way to protect yourself. And it goes without saying that children should always be wearing a PFD when out in the water.

Children and water safety

Children should always have an adult with them when swimming or doing water sports – young children should have “touch supervision”, meaning that an adult is always within arm’s reach. Designating a “water watcher” and being clear about who is responsible for watching kids is essential.  Over and over I have heard from parents of children who drowned that it "happened so fast…I turned my back for a second." You can avoid this happening to you. The buddy system is helpful no matter what age you are – being on the water alone increases drowning risk significantly.

Young children should have “touch supervision”, meaning that an adult is always within arm’s reach. 

Other tips

Although it may seem like you’ve heard it before, it can’t hurt to familiarize yourself with these tips before going out on the boat for the day or when planning a paddle board excursion.  

  • Avoid alcohol or other altering substances when participating in water sports.
  • Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for any devices you use – pay attention to weight limits, safety recommendations, and instructions for use.
  • Ensure every member of your party has a PFD and knows how to operate it.

Finally, learn to recognize signs of drowning – they may not be what you think. Drowning is usually silent, and doesn’t come with warning signs like screaming or waving arms. Be vigilant for anyone who appears to be floating face down, gasping or with their head tilted back, “ladder-climbing” with their arms and legs, bobbing or appears tired, or someone who is alone in the water – especially a child.

Find a doctor

Staying safe in the water can be challenging. Find a doctor you can trust to help you find water safety resources in our provider directory.

Related resources

Water dangers can extend to dry land

Three summer safety tips – sunscreen, heat exhaustion, water

American Red Cross: Water safety

National Safety Council: Water safety

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Meade is the Chief of Pediatrics and a pediatric hospital medicine physician caring for acutely and chronically ill children at Swedish.

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