PORTSMOUTH – It’s the season of pools, ponds, rivers, lakes and the beach and while water is part of summer’s most popular activities, it’s important to keep safety in mind.
In the U.S., drowning is the second most common cause of unintentional death for individuals between the ages of 1 and 14, after car accidents. Nationally, 43% of children and teens drown in open water versus 38% in pools and hot tubs. Nine percent drown in bathtubs and 10% drown from other causes.
Jim Esdon, Program Coordinator for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) Injury Prevention Program takes water safety very seriously.
When most of think of drowning, we see the movie version. The person is flailing and screaming for help. Most true drowning victims do not look like that.
“Drowning typically looks like nothing out of the ordinary is happening,” said Esdon. “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 for the following indicators.”
• 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
Esdon said supervision of children is of utmost importance, even if they are capable of swimming an arm’s length away from you.
“Always make sure if you need to leave for any reason, that there is a responsible person to watch. That doesn’t need to be an adult, if there is a responsible younger person. It does mean a person whose judgement is not affected by drugs or alcohol. Those people may not make good decisions.”
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.
“Swimming in the ocean or a river is different than swimming in a pool,” said Esdon. “There are water currents and, in the ocean, riptides. I am always astonished at how differently kids react to a lake vs. the family pool. Teach kids how to swim in these conditions and do not assume because they do OK in the pool that they are OK here.”
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.
“Even for a good swimmer, in the spring or early fall, the water temperature is much colder,” said Esdon. “It does not take long for hypothermia to set in. If it does, the person can’t swim; might not even be able to move. A lifejacket can help keep them afloat until help arrives.”
A US Coast Guard life jacket is required by the State of New Hampshire for kids up to age 12 who will be going on a boat. Everyone is encouraged to wear one.
“Make sure the lifejacket is appropriate for the size of the child, whether it’s a boat with a motor or one without,” said Esdon.
Esdon said pools should be enclosed by a fence and have an alarm on the gate.
“Be careful with older pools and hot tubs,” said Esdon. “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.”
Esdon and Dartmouth-Hitchcock offer the following tip guides:
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.
Several state agencies offer links for water safety. Among them are the following:
Swimming & Boating Safety
From the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Fire Safety (State Fire Marshal)
• Swimming Safety Tips: https://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/firesafety/special-operations/pub_ed/documents/swimming_safety_tips2.pdf.
• Boating Safety Tips: https://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/firesafety/special-operations/pub_ed/documents/boating_safety_tips.pdf.
From New Hampshire Fish and Game:
• Boating Safety: https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/boating/safety.html.
Water Quality Safety
From the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES)
• Is it safe to swim at your local beach? View beach advisory information: https://www.des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/beaches/advisories.htm.
• Current beach advisories (interactive map): http://www4.des.state.nh.us/WaterShed_BeachMaps/.
• Interested followers are invited to keep up to date with DES on Twitter: Twitter.com/nhdes_beaches
DES has a library of resources for their Beach Inspection Program at: