Water Safety Tips

Orange life jacket on a dock.

Swimming is summer’s most popular activity and New Hampshire residents are fortunate that their swimming options range from the Atlantic Ocean to freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers. As you prepare to enjoy the water, it’s important to remember these safety tips to keep you and your children safe.

Nationally, 43 percent of children and teens drown in open water versus 38 percent in pools and hot tubs. Nine percent drown in bathtubs and 10 percent drown from other causes. In the U.S., drowning is the second most common cause of unintentional death for individuals between the ages of one and 14, after car accidents. [1]

Drowning typically looks like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. When we think of drowning, we think of movies where the person is on their stomach. But they typically remain upright in the water and often don’t appear to be in distress. If you suspect someone is drowning, you should immediately check if:

  • They look at you with a blank stare or have glassy eyes
  • Their head is low in the water
  • They can’t verbally respond to you
  • You wave to them and they can’t wave back

Most drownings in New Hampshire happen in open water or in non-traditional swimming areas, such as swimming holes or rivers where kids jump off a cliff or swing from a rope. Riptides in the ocean are another hazard. Most beach areas typically have flags or warning signs, but you should also ask a lifeguard about swimming conditions.

Another cause of drowning is hypothermia. If someone falls into the water, especially in March, April and May when water temperatures are still between 40 and 50 degrees, it takes just two to three minutes for hypothermia to set in. If that happens, you can’t move, so you’re not able to self-rescue. If you’re wearing a life jacket, you have a chance to get to shore or to stay above water long enough for someone to help you.

Safety tips for open water

  1. Watch kids in and around water with no distractions (no cellphones).
  2. Teach kids how to swim in open water.
  3. Use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that corresponds with the child’s weight and the water activity.
  4. If you see someone in trouble, reach with a stick, throw a rope or float. Take a boat or swim out to the person ONLY if you have been trained in those lifesaving skills.

Safety tips for home

  1. Undistracted supervision is key, whether at a pool or in a bathtub.
  2. Buckets and containers that are stored outside should be turned over so they can’t collect water.
  3. Close toilet lids, use toilet seat locks, and keep bathroom and laundry room doors closed.
  4. Install a four-foot tall or higher fence around your pool.
  5. Get CPR training so you know what to do in an emergency.

Safety tips for boating

If you’re getting into any boat—with a motor or without—the state of New Hampshire requires a life jacket for children up to age 12; and we encourage everyone to wear life jackets whenever they are boating, including in canoes and kayaks.

Safety tips around pools

Pools should be enclosed by a fence and have an alarm on the gate. Be careful with older pools and hot tubs. They don’t have drains with special covers that prevent children from being pulled under water by the suction and potentially getting stuck to the drain. Most newer pools and hot tubs are equipped with a cover that prevents this.

Supervision is key. Always physically and verbally identify somebody to watch a child if the supervising person has to leave.

Jim Esdon is the Program Coordinator for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) Injury Prevention Program. For more safety tips, visit chadkids.org.

[1] Hidden Hazards: An Exploration of Open Water Drowning and Risks for Children, May 2018, Safe Kids Worldwide.