Pool safety tips for a fun, safe pool this summer

We opened our pool about two weeks ago. It is entirely too cold to be swimming, but that hasn’t stopped any of our kids. And so, even though pool season is over a month away if you ask me, I’m spending my afternoons out by the pool.

Having a pool in your backyard is really, really fun. I grew up with a pool and it’s one of the reasons we bought this house. Swimming is only fun when it’s safe, though. In the three years we’ve lived here we’ve hosted lots of pool parties and backyard swims, and I’ve learned a lot about pool safety.

I sum up our strategy for pool safety with two words: diligence and vigilance.

First, perform due diligence in creating a safe pool environment. Second, always be vigilant about prioritizing active pool supervision.

Diligence: Creating a safe pool environment
  • Pool fence: Your pool should have a four-foot fence with a self-closing gate and latch that locks. The fence should have four sides, meaning the house cannot be one of the sides. (Meaning someone could walk out of the house and be in the pool area.)
  • Remove all toys and floatation devices from the pool when not in use. Floatation devices can block your view of the water, and children reaching for toys and floats can fall into the pool.
  • Choose a pool installation company that is professional and reputable. Pools and spas installed by Anthony & Sylvan are installed by skilled, experienced craftsmen and come with a lifetime structural warranty.
  • Maintain proper signage such as “No diving.”
  • Establish and maintain pool rules, including what will happen if rules are broken.
  • Consider an alarm on exterior doors and gates that lead to the pool, and surface water alarm on the pool.
  • Keep rescue equipment (such as a shepherd’s hook and life preserver) near the pool at all times.

Vigilance: prioritizing pool supervision

Supervision seems like a no-brainer, but did you know that 88% of child drownings occur with an adult present? I know that when I’m watching my kids, I’m tempted to look away, grab my phone, maybe do a little weeding in the walk by the pool. I think that we get used to passive supervision when kids are playing in the yard or inside. The pool is different. The pool requires active supervision. In the pool emergencies happen quickly and there’s no margin for error. Here are some active supervision rules we’ve put in place at our pool.

  • No one should ever swim alone.
  • Leave your phone inside. This is perhaps the most critical, easiest thing you can do. We’re all sucked into our screens without realizing it, so just remove the temptation by leaving your phone inside.
  • Remember, when a child falls in the water it is silentI cannot stress this enough. Don’t assume you’ll hear a splash or commotion. It happens quickly, and it happens silently.
  • Before you go swimming, make sure you have everything you need so you’re not tempted to run in to grab snacks, sunscreen, towels etc.
  • If the adult has to leave the pool area, everyone has to leave the pool area.

Pool safety during parties

We have a lot of parties, and our friends mostly have young kids. We quickly learned that we have to create an additional set of rules when there are a lot of people swimming.

  • Never assume parents are watching their own children. They probably mean to be, but they get distracted, they start talking. Instead, assume that everyone is distracted.
  • An undistracted adult should watch the pool at all times — someone who isn’t chatting, eating, or refilling the snack bowl. During gatherings, we have adults take turns sitting away from the other adults to watch the pool without distractions. When possible we have a lifeguard for large events.
  • Read pool rules aloud. My kids are familiar with my rules, but not all kids are. Make sure kids and parents know that unsafe behavior will not be tolerated, and define what “unsafe behavior” means if necessary.
  • If a swimmer wants to swim without a life jacket, require a swim test. We ask kids to swim two lengths of our pool without stopping.
  • Never allow kids to remove life preservers while in the pool enclosure. This is especially important during large gatherings. Kids often take off their preservers to eat or to dry off, then wander back to the pool. Consider the life preserver the ticket into and out of the pool.
  • Secure the pool when it’s not being used. An ER doctor once told me that most pool accidents happen when swimming stops and everyone goes to another location to eat, open presents, etc. Then a child wanders away from the main group and might fall into the pool, and no one notices because the pool is unsupervised.

 

This is not an exhaustive list. These are just a few things we’ve learned over the past three years that have helped us create a space that is SAFE so that we can have FUN.

Here are some additional resources to check out and learn more pool safety, CPR, swim lessons, and statistics on drowning:

 

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Gayle Ann April 26, 2019

    I have another resource, The National Swimming Pool Foundation, NSPF, nspf.org.

    They offer a Certified Pool Operator course, which is the standard for the nation. EVERY state requires that public pools have at least one person who has passed the course in their employee, and there are laws regarding how frequently chemical levels are checked, as well as remedies. Also, little known fact, health inspectors from the municipal health department are responsible for inspecting public pools, which includes hotel pools, the Y pools, therapy pools, and hot tubs. They take this course. One takes a training course that is about 2 consecutive days, with the test being administered at the end of it. Certification is good for 5 years.

    The CPO course isn’t a lifeguard course. It is a pool operator/manager course, designed to teach the operator how to protect both themselves, and the public.

    I’d add alcohol to Amanda’s list, and absolutely, under no circumstances, should glass be anywhere near a pool. Water, heat, and alcohol do not mix. Use plastic cups, as beer bottles are the glass most often found, and broken, poolside. Wear sunglasses if watching swimmers. Sun glare on water is a real thing. Those floats that blow up around a child’s arms are NOT a suitable life preserver unless they are the type that are attached to a vest or band worn by the child. In other words, everything should be attached to the child, and unable to float away. LIFE VESTS HAVE WEIGHT CLASSES. A 50 lb child wearing a vest rated UP TO 35lbs, isn’t safe, and neither is a 20 lbs child wearing a vest aimed at 50-75. A 2 year old can’t wear a 10 year old sisters dresses, so why would anyone think the vest would work. Not only are the weigh protections important, but so is the fit.

    A buddy system works well. assign each child a buddy, who will be playing together,, and have games, where you blow the whistle twice, and ask kids where their buddy is located.

    I understand what you are saying about the phone, but consider leaving it on the patio, or in a draw string bag attached to the pool gate so that one of the kids can call 911 quickly. Or, buy a burner phone, for emergency use only, and make it the pool phone.

    I spend every summer day at the post waterpark, which makes my rheumatologist, orthopedist, neurologist, and physical therapist very very happy. I still keep my environmental health specialist (health inspector) license valid, and I take the CPO course for the continuing education hours necessary for my license. My experience is that it is the adults who need rescuing the most. People watch kids. People don’t watch the adults. Plus, the adults smuggle in alcohol, and then do stupid things. But, I’ve watched kids get hurt. One kid kept doing a running jump into the pool to do cannonballs. But, as he curled. Most states have limited the type of passengers new drivers can have in cars, because kids are stupid around other kids, even the honor students. They are stupid around water too. They think they can swim, and, with the invincibility of youth, believe it can’t happen to them. They run around the pool. They jump in the deep end, knowing they can’t swim well, because they are embarrassed around friends who do swim well. They push each other in the water, whether the one being pushed is ready for it or not. Last year, one teen-ager was about 10 feet from the lifeguard, who was watching children jump into the water from the side of the pool. As she heard a splash, the guard’s head would turn to watch the kid surface. The teenager would then dive in, and by the time the guard’s head turned toward this kid, he was in the water, and she missed the diving taking place as the kid stood on a “NO DIVING” notice PAINTED on the deck. Which brings me to another topic, parents.

    This kids mother was upset the pool director sought her out and told her about the behavior. Per her, the kid could swim and dive, so he wasn’t in any trouble. A few years ago, two teenagers thought it would be a good idea to pretend they were drowning. The mother then yelled at the lifeguard, who she claimed was at fault for not realizing they were faking it. The pool director sided with the lifeguard, as did those of us who had been watching. Don’t defend your child’s stupidity. And, don’t encourage stupidity. If they need a vest, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the deepest part of the pool. If a kid jumps in the deep end, while immediately reaching for the side, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the deep end. On the bright side, the parents are generally there watching, so there are eyes on the kid, but…. Parents who come, find a chair, wave off their kids, then spend the entire afternoon on the phone also irritate me for a variety of reasons. Lifeguards aren’t babysitters, parents should be playing with, and watching, their own children, and I don’t appreciate hearing conversations.

    I’d also add a break every hour to hour and a half, which is sometimes known as adult swim, but is really a GO TO THE BATHROOM time.

    Lastly, the only toys that should be inside the pool area are real pool toys. Barbie;s dream house doesn’t need to have a waterfront address. Small pieces can harm the filters, and stepping on small pieces, on the deck or in the water, can cause someone to stumble. And, although, Barbie is an astronaut, a teacher, a veterinarian, a Navy officer, a Hudson’s Bay shopper, and a variety of other things, she is not, to my knowledge an aquanaut, and her house isn’t designed for an underwater experience either. Pool toys are designed for SAFE water use.

    Hiring a lifeguard is a GREAT idea. Unless it is a small small group, someone can’t watch from the pool. Someone needs to be above ground. I don’t know about VA, but here they make around $10-15/hour, which is ridiculous when one considers the responsibility being handed to a teenager. Because teenagers are hired, people tend to think it is an easy job, and swimming is safe, both of which are untrue.

    The term used in the CPO course is “water watcher.” Everyone is encouraged to be a water watcher.

    It is all common sense, and all designed to keep all pool users safe, so you’d think everyone would entirely supportive. Yet, the “not my child” is seen at the pool too. Water isn’t a place for an ego. The worst accident I’ve ever seen involved two parents who were with their child, but not paying attention to what the child said. It ended with a broken femur, broken jay, broken wrist and arm, and some other injuries, and it happened in 2 seconds.

    I take this topic seriously because people die. Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of death in children 1-14. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act is named after a child who died when the drain on a hot tub malfunctioned, and the suction pulled her to the drain. Her grandfather was US Secretary of State James Baker, and the family’s connections helped get the law passed regarding drain covers and suction. Bush 43 signed it into law in 2007, and since then, not one child has died from entrapment. I also recommend long hair be restrained, as it can be caught in a variety of things, including toys.

    You should purchase a couple of the pool rule signs, or two, for safety and liability. They start at $12 on Amazon for Prime members.

    I’m sorry if I sound arrogant or egotistical. It was not my attention.

    A great place for info is https://www.poolsafely.gov/ The site has MANY MANY free things. There is a downloadable safety kit, but you can order water tattoos promoting pool safety, cards identifying someone as a water watcher (you should get a large fun straw hat to be worn by the watcher, so the kids can easily identify the person), mini beach balls, and they encourage you to pass out the info to friends and neighbors. (Talk about a great guest speaker topic for school, scouts, etc.)

    It is a very important topic that people constantly treat as something that happens to other people. The problem is that everyone is “other people.”

    Reply
  2. Gayle Ann April 26, 2019

    Part of this comment was cut off:

    One kid kept doing a running jump into the pool to do cannonballs. But, as he curled so that his body was at a 60 degree angle from the water surface, meaning his head tilted back toward the wall, as his tush hit the water. He did about two before his head hit the side of the pool.

    Reply
  3. Abby April 26, 2019

    This is so important – what a great detailed post!

    Reply
  4. Tyleen Madsen April 26, 2019

    Great post! I’m always afraid to have a pool at my own house because I worry so much and have heard some horror stories. I love all these helpful tips though to make it safer! I don’t have to worry about a pool at my house as they dont usually make backyard pools in Wyoming lol

    Reply
    • Gayle Ann April 26, 2019

      Tyleen,

      You hear about the horror stories because they make the news. There are millions of pools that never have an issue.because people are behaving responsibly. It’s like teenagers. THe news generally reports on the ones who are destroying cemeteries, involved in gangs, etc. You hear about them much more than you do the kids who are in school, doing well, and have never been in trouble. Don’t let the 0.001% scare you. Everything in safety is common sense.

      Personally, I think every kid should learn how to swim. I think of it as a life skill. Part of the water combat test is 15 minutes of treading water, in uniform. Every so often, I’m at the pool when a group of reservists are doing their two weeks, and using the post pool. It is fascinating to watch. All the children sit on the side of the pool in utter silence watching with the widest eyes. And, you can tell the instructors are carefully watching their “encouraging” language. It is immediately obvious who grew up in water and learned to swim, and who didn’t.

      My mother was one of those lessons people, so we had swimming lessons. They didn’t pay off until a couple of decades later. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the joints. I tried Enbrel, a miracle drug, and did great for 18 months, then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Biologics are forever off the table as are anti-inflammatories because I had 2 ulcers perforate. I have the complication of weakened tendons. I’ve had 7 knee surgeries, 3 were replacements, and 4 rotator cuff surgeries, both elbows…. I stopped counting at 30 surgeries, about 8 years ago, and I’m not joking. All those swim lessons paid off during physical therapy because I could swim. I did aqua therapy which is SOOOOO much better. Faster recovery, less pain, better long term outcomes. I’d be in so much worse shape if I didn’t know how to swim. And, unlike the ballet lessons, my mother felt she got a return on her money.

      If I ever win the lottery, I want a pool, and I want the water cycle and the water treadmill. And a TV and audio system that works with audio books. I’d be very very happy.

      Reply
  5. Chris Nelson April 26, 2019

    Highly informational. Too many lives lost that could have been prevented. Thank you for this post

    Reply
  6. Katja April 26, 2019

    Perfect time for summer!

    Reply
  7. Sara Jones April 26, 2019

    Do you have any floatie/life jacket/”puddle jumper” recommendations for a 16-18 month old?

    Reply
    • amandakrieger April 26, 2019

      we’ve been using a normal puddle jumper for anna, but yesterday she wriggled out of it so we’re not going to use that anymore. (they’re for 30-50 lbs. i’m not exactly sure what she weighs, but i’m sure it’s close to 30 lbs. i think it doesn’t work more bc she’s not tall enough.)

      next we’re going to try something like this: https://www.target.com/p/speedo-splash-jammer-life-jacket-vests/-/A-54454256?preselect=54084517

      For boats/lakes we use a traditional lifejacket. babies hate them, but too bad ya know 😉

      Reply
  8. Jackline A April 27, 2019

    Great post! So many parents need to read this information. My parents had a pool twice and now I have a young child it’s something I want to avoid at this time. It’s a huge responsibility and ensuring that your pool meets the safety requirements is so important. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  9. Kat Depner April 27, 2019

    My husband told me this story once when he was resting on a floating pool mat at his Dad’s friend’s house and the adults were loosely paying attention. Somehow he turned and got capsized into the pool – and he couldn’t swim! So he literally jumped up and down, taking huge gulps of air each time he came out of the 4 foot water, jumped over to the side of the pool to his father who now was concerned. He directed him to jump back over to the ladder and he got out okay… but he was pretty shaken up! I don’t think he ever quite got comfortable with pools after that lol. I appreciate all your safety tips – these sorts of things could always be avoided with a bit more care!

    Reply
  10. Ann April 27, 2019

    Excellent timing! Pool safety is so important thank for the great post!

    Reply
  11. Meredith April 27, 2019

    Sounds like you are a very responsible pool owner! They scare me quite a bit with young kids who are in swim lessons, but not there yet. Pediatric ICU nurse married to an ER doc I know we have only seen the worst of the worst, but I’m too chicken still! I’m so glad you’re spreading great info!

    Reply
  12. Annie April 27, 2019

    Wow this is such a good subject to write about. One of my major reasons for wanting to move from our large house with a pool (in Arizona) was because I just no longer wanted the responsibility after having a baby. But I know we still have to be careful because we will end up on vacation or at someone’s house with a pool so you always have to think about it. Thank you for the reminder to resume our swimming lessons asap!

    Reply
  13. Tricia Brockway April 28, 2019

    This is such a great post concerning the safety of children!! Every parent should read this. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  14. Ariana Dagan April 30, 2019

    Great tips! I grew up around a pool and we had so many rules it would make my head spin, but now that I have a kid of my own I get it! I’m excited for my daughter to be able to enjoy the pool but terrified of every little thing that can go wrong as well!

    Reply
  15. Ya April 30, 2019

    Great tips! I am currently teaching my boys how to swim!

    Reply

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