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Summer swimming safety

The Great Lakes can be cold, despite the hot summer weather.
The Great Lakes can be cold, despite the hot summer weather.

Jill Colton, staff writer

June 28, 2011 — When it comes to summer, it's hard not to think about swimming in the lake, pool or at the cottage. But before you take the plunge, it's essential to remember the importance of water safety.

Children should be supervised when they swim.
Children should be supervised when they swim.

Summer has barely begun and tragedies have already struck waterways.

Just a week ago, two Greater Toronto Area residents, a 21-year-old and a 14-year-old drowned while swimming.

According to experts, roughly 500 people drown in Canada every year. “The top demographics (for drowning) would be children ages one to four. In fact, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for this age group,” explains Janelle Warren, Canadian Red Cross.

Warren says that another high demographic for this kind of tragedy is men ages 15-44. This could be due to a number of reasons, including risk taking and not wearing life jackets.

To reduce the number of drownings, Warren suggests that parents keep a close eye on their children. “Parents don't always realize that it can happen very quickly and very silently.”

Barbara Byers, a spokesperson with the Lifesaving Society echoes her sentiments, “a drowning can happen in as little as 20 seconds.”

It's important not to underestimate small areas of water. Inflatable backyard (kiddie) pools can also be dangerous.

“They have enough water for children to drown, so it's important parents are always closely supervising their kids, just in case something happens.”

Safety first! Even dogs should wear life jackets.
Safety first! Even dogs should wear life jackets.

According to Byers, most drownings are preventable but people continually make common mistakes when they're on the water.

Warren says a typical error is that people don't wear their life jackets when they're riding in a boat. “We would equate that with not putting your seatbelt on as your car is getting into an accident.”

Another typical blunder is to overestimate one's abilities. “So you want to make sure you're doing activities that are appropriate for your ability level.”

Swimming in cold water can also be fatal because hypothermia can occur. Some of the initial symptoms include feeling cold, shivering and teeth chattering. “As hypothermia progresses, the sufferer may stop feeling the cold,” Warren says. “They may start to think they're getting warm and can actually start taking layers off,”she adds.

In the more severe phases the person may become confused and begin stumbling and mumbling. They can also drift into unconsciousness.

Canadian waterways can be dangerous for swimmers simply because they're cooler on average.

“Not everyone realizes that some bodies of water -- particularly the Great Lakes -- don't warm up all that much during the summer months.” This can lead to your core dropping in temperature, resulting in hypothermia.

For more information on swimming and water safety, please visit The Canadian Red Cross.

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