Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Talking With Patients About Safe Summer Swimming


Swimming is a summertime joy, but it is not without risk. Before patients take the plunge, they should be reminded to always swim with a buddy (never alone) and to apply sunscreen.

The 4th of July has always elicited the best feelings of summer for me—burgers or hot dogs off the grill taste better in the midsummer heat and pair perfectly with the cool, glistening water of the ocean, lake, river, or local pool. If you’re like me, you and your patients probably can’t wait to dive in. But before anyone takes the plunge, here are a few things to talk with patients about staying safe:



1. Never swim alone. 

Drowning is a significant risk for everyone, and especially for children and adolescents—it’s the leading injury-related cause of death for ages one through four, and the third leading cause of accidental death in children ages five and up. This makes pool safety very important and requires appropriate supervision. No amount of standing water is considered safe, especially for the youngest age group, who can drown in just a few inches of water.

Whether the water is ankle-deep or several feet deep, never swim alone or leave any child near water alone. Tell parents that most drownings of young children occur outside of supervised pool-time according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children can be easily attracted to the sparkling appearance of water and accidentally fall in, making supervision even outside of pool-time essential. It’s also a good idea for parents to have training in CPR or life-saving skills, especially if they have children. Pool fences may also help prevent children from drowning.

2. Lifejackets should be appropriately fitted based on weight.

If you are reusing lifejackets, it’s always a good idea to double-check that it’s the right size. This is especially important for children if they’ve gained weight or had a growth spurt. Do not use or rely on floaties to replace a lifejacket—these products are not safe. Keep other rescue devices nearby, such as a life preservers and safety hooks.

3. Everyone near water should know how to swim.

Swimming lessons can be an additional safeguard to help prevent drownings but should never replace supervision and other safety measures. Swimming lessons have been shown to decrease the risk of drowning in children ages one and up.

4. Wear sunscreen

This isn’t unique to swimming safety, but it’s important to remember to pack, apply, and reapply sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15-50) be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and be reapplied every two hours after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.

For additional tips for summer-related safety, www.healthychildren.org is a pediatrician-approved source from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and covers the following topics: 

This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.