Stay Safe in the Water

Provide proper supervision for swimmers

Whether in a backyard pool, at the community recreation center, or in a local pond or lake, swimming is a popular summer pastime for young people.

Follow These Safety Tips to Help Keep Your Group Safe

  • Find a lifeguard. Experienced lifeguards are trained in rescue techniques and are familiar with the hazards of their body of water. Swimmers should only swim in bodies of water that are supervised by a lifeguard. Group leaders should never take young people swimming in an area where there isn't a lifeguard on duty.
  • Find a buddy. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in the water is to learn how to swim. Regardless of how skilled swimmers are, however, they should never swim alone. Group leaders should pair up swimmers and use the buddy system during all outings that involve water play. Every half-hour, use a designated signal to do a “buddy check.” Counting by twos, you can account for everyone in about 10 seconds.
  • Follow the rules. Most public swimming areas post rules. Group leaders should review these rules with swimmers prior to allowing them in the water. Don't allow rough, boisterous horseplay as this can cause a distressed swimmer to go unnoticed.
  • Set limitations: For large groups of swimmers, leaders can identify younger children and non-swimmers with brightly colored wristbands that are easy to see in the water. Leaders should also limit inexperienced swimmers’ water play to shallow areas, in order to help ensure their safety. For example, only those who can swim 150 yards and tread water for two minutes would be allowed to enter water over their heads.
  • Use life jackets. Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (personal flotation device) when they are in or around the water. Water wings, floaties, and noodles are not lifesaving devices and should not be used as personal flotation devices. Inflatable objects give people a false sense of security. A poor swimmer who falls off his inner tube in deep water is a drowning candidate.
  • Take breaks. There are many hidden dangers around the water. These include swimmers who get too tired, too cold, too far from safety, or take in too much sun. When swimmers ignore these signs of trouble, they are more likely to end up in serious danger. Activity leaders should schedule regular swim breaks (for example, 10 minutes at the top of every hour) and strictly enforce them.
  • Know your swimming hole. Group leaders that take young people swimming in natural bodies of water must know the area and its potential hazards. Where are the deep areas and drop-offs? Are they properly marked? Is the body of water subject to current changes? Are there obstructions that could cause safety hazards? Group leaders should address these questions prior to taking young people into the water.
  • Be a weather watcher. Weather can change dramatically and quickly, especially during warm weather months. A bright, sunny day can rapidly become filled with thunder and lightning when pop-up storms blow through an area. Group leaders should stop all water activities and seek shelter at the first indication of bad weather.
  • Know first aid. Group leaders absolutely must know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to emergencies. They should be CPR-certified and have ready access to a cell phone in order to call for help, should an emergency arise.

Download our Water Safety Checklist > >

For more information on water safety, visit the American Red Cross's website