Water Safety

Preparing For Open Water Swimming

Ready to go for a dip? A child’s time in open water can be exciting, but it’s important to understand how to swim safely. Oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, and other open water settings all have unique hazards and safety tips that are different than pool safety. Know the risks and take the proper steps to be prepared before your child jumps right in.

Steps to Safety

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  • The Difference Between Open Water and Pools

    • Unlike pools, at beaches, lakes and ponds you can’t always see what’s under the water. There can be hidden hazards like rocks, logs, uneven surfaces or sudden drop-offs. Teach your kids to wade out feet first when entering open water, no diving in head first.
    • In open water, there’s often no label for the deep end. So, there’s no way of knowing how deep is too deep. And because open water is usually much bigger than a pool it can be hard to tell how far away from shore is too far. Make sure that your child is aware of the surroundings, and to never swim unsupervised.
    • Waves can be fun but they can also be dangerous. Before allowing kids to swim in the ocean, make sure they know how to deal with a crashing wave and strong currents, as well as how to avoid or escape a rip tide.
    • Did you know cold water can affect swimming ability? Often, open water is colder than pools. Don’t let it come as a shock to your children.
    • Changes in the weather can make open water currents, tides, and waves stronger. Check the weather and water conditions before you leave home and then again when you arrive so your family is prepared.
    • Be sure your child knows to get out of the water and to an agreed-upon safe place if they hear thunder or see lightning. The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
    • For information on pool safety, visit here.
  • Learning To Swim

    • You can introduce your child to the water as early as six months old, and sign your child up for swimming lessons when they are ready. Formal lessons can help reduce the risk of drowning.
    • When learning how to swim, make sure your child has these five water survival skills:
      1. Know how to step or jump into water over their heads and return to the surface
      2. Make sure they can float or tread water for one minute
      3. Turn around in a full circle and find a way out of the water
      4. Breathe while moving forward in the water
      5. Be able to exit the water
    • Water toys, such as water wings, inner tubes, and inflatable toys, can be fun, but they do not prevent drowning. If kids aren’t ready to swim on their own, they should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, also called a personal flotation device (PFD).
    • Depending on their age, kids might need a different type of life jacket. So, go here and find out how to select the right life jacket for your child.
    • Even if your child is a strong swimmer, they should always wear a PFD on a boat. Also, be sure to dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature when boating or doing other recreational activities.
  • Swimming Safely

    • Kids should only swim in open water areas that are safe and in designated swimming areas. Look for any hazard signs and check to see if there are lifeguards on duty before your kids go in open water.
    • Never allow your child to swim around boats and in areas where people are water-skiing, tubing, or jet skiing.
    • Playing in the water is fun, but make sure your kids never roughhouse or do anything that might be mistaken for drowning.
    • Drifting too far from shore can be scary. Make sure you teach your kids to stay calm and to tread water until help arrives.
    • Even when kids are older and might know how to swim, they should still take safety precautions in open water. Older children might overestimate their skills or take more risks and open water elements can make swimming difficult for even the strongest swimmers. Make sure they’re aware of water currents, water depth and water safety skills.
    • Encourage kids to take swimming and water safety or rescue classes. This can give them the skills they need to swim safely.
  • Active Supervision

    • You should always keep an eye on kids when they’re in or around open water. Designate a Water Watcher, and take turns with another responsible adult if needed, to ensure kids are actively supervised at all times.
    • If your child is new to swimming, make sure they’re always within arm’s reach of an adult. Even older children should never swim unsupervised.
    • It is important for you to know how to respond in water emergencies without putting yourself or others at risk. Take the time to learn basic water rescue skills and CPR. You can find CPR classes in your area through the American Red Cross.
    • Be aware of the risks of Dry Drowning. Learn more here.
    • When going to unfamiliar swimming areas, keep an eye out for signs warning you that the water is not clean. Polluted water can make you or your child sick.



Did You Know?


In 2016, 43% of childhood drownings happened in open water.

Safe Kids Worldwide



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Content developed in association with:

Nationwide Childrens Hospital Safe Kids Worldwide

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