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Experts: Swim Lessons Key to Preventing Drowning

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Copyright 2017 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

Water-safety advocates see a sad but important lesson in the drowning deaths of a teen in West Palm Beach and a 6-year-old in Port St. Lucie last week: Teach your children to swim. And while they're in the pool, keep an eye on them.

The 17-year-old boy had never learned to swim but went into the pool anyway, family members told West Palm Beach investigators. The 6-year-old's brother and friends didn't notice he was missing as they played in shallow water until they saw him unresponsive in the pool's deepest reaches.

As the summer months unofficially arrive with Memorial Day weekend and children are more frequently around large bodies of water, water-safety advocates are preaching the importance of two things to prevent drownings: supervision and education.

"What's all too common is there's a party or an event where there are lots of kids and adults around the pool, but there's no adult with their eyes on the pool," said Jon Burstein, a communications specialist with the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County. "There always needs to be one designated water-watcher."

According to statistics from the Palm Beach County Drowning Prevention Coalition, 56 people drowned in 2015 in Palm Beach County, eight of whom were under the age of 20.

Anna Stewart, manager of the coalition, said the total number of drownings in 2016 dropped to 47, four of whom were children. She said she had not analyzed why the number dropped so drastically.

The most common drownings of children 4 and younger happen when a child slips out unnoticed through an unlocked door or a door that's ajar and goes into the pool, Burstein said.

"Drowning is silent. It's not like the movies where someone is splashing about theatrically. Oftentimes, kids will just slip under the water," he said. "To that end, you need to have door alarms to ensure children don't slip out, that you know that the child is in the house, and you also need to have gates around the pool."

Drownings of teenagers often stem from a false sense of confidence in their abilities, Burstein said.

"They go in the water, and the ocean is powerful," he said. "They go into the water sometimes unattended. They go into the water sometimes just not knowing how to swim. And sometimes there's false confidence in how far they can go out."

As for adults, Stewart said it's more common than not for their drownings to be influenced either by drugs or alcohol. However, she said, it's equally important for adults to follow logic and reasoning when in the water.

"It's really important to recognize that a drowning can happen to you," she said. "The No. 1 recommendation is that adults never swim alone. If something were to happen, there's no one there to help."

The coalition offers families $50 vouchers good for six to eight swim lessons at any of the 18 public pools in Palm Beach County. Burstein said swim lessons are important in supplementing the adult supervision necessary any time children are around a body of water -- a year-round occurrence in coastal Florida.

"It really doesn't matter what time of year it is. There have been drownings in the first week of January through the last week of December," he said. "Palm Beach County is a very water-rich environment so adults always need to keep in mind the importance of supervision, the importance of barriers around pools and really instill in their children the importance of swim lessons and the importance of safety at beaches."

cmitchell@pbpost.com

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May 28, 2017
 
 
 

 

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