At the Pool
- Swim with a buddy. Whatever the situation, never swim alone. Almost all incidents of drowning can be prevented or the consequences made less severe if there's someone around to provide first aid or to go get help. The buddy system is so effective that it's used in any danger situation by the United States Army, Air Force, and Navy.
- Make sure you can see the bottom drain. If you can't, the water is probably not clean enough to swim in. If you're not sure, check the quality of the pool water yourself. Purchase testing strips at your local hardware or pool specialty store. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pool water have a free chlorine level 1 to 3 parts per million and a pH between 7.2 and 7.8.
- Don't swallow the pool water. According to the CDC, outbreaks of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) have been steadily increasing during the last two decades. The most common RWI is diarrhea, which can be caused by germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli, all of which may be in the water. Usually, the chlorine kills all germs, but to be on the safe side, keep the water in the pool and out of your mouth.
At the Beach
- Swim safely. It sounds obvious, but here are three things you may not have thought about:
- Flag system: Check for flags flying on the beach to let you know if it's safe to swim. Red means "Danger: No Swimming," yellow means "Caution: Seek Advice," and green means "Safe to Swim." A red and yellow flag signals a swimming area patrolled by lifeguards, a purple flag means marine pests (such as jellyfish or sharks) are present, and a black-and-white checkered flag indicates a watercraft area where no swimming is allowed.
- Feet first: As much as you enjoyed watching Baywatch, never run from the beach and dive head first into shallow water. If you're jumping into the water from high up, always go feet first; you have no idea what's beneath the waves.
- Think sideways. If you get caught in a rip current (aka "the undertow"), swim sideways (parallel to the beach). Never swim against the current's pull.
- Alcohol and water sports don't mix. Remember when your mother used to tell you not to swim after you ate? As it turns out, that one's just an old wives tale, but drinking (alcohol) is a another story. It may feel nice to have a cold one while relaxing on the beach, but don't go swimming once you've started drinking. Statistics show that alcohol is involved in up to half of the deaths associated with water recreation – swimming, boating, surfing, etc.
- Check the water quality. The quality of ocean water changes during the season. For example, it's significantly worse immediately after a rainstorm, because water draining onto the beach may come from overflowing sewage treatment systems. Other environmental and seasonal factors can affect the water quality, so always check with local officials or the Environmental Protection Agency's Beach Watch website before you get wet.
For the Outdoors
- Wear sunscreen. A severe sunburn can ruin your weekend, but that's not the worst the sun can do. Overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life, including the potentially life-threatening melanoma. Always wear sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15 and reapply every two hours that you're under the sun. Learn more about sunscreens and find out which sunscreens are the safest and most effective.
- Don't get bit. With all the time you're going to spend outside during the summer months, you're bound to have a few close encounters with all sorts of bugs. Avoid areas where insects tend to congregate, and don't use scented soaps, perfumes, or hair sprays when you're out in nature. If you're going to be in an insect-heavy area, use insect repellant, and make sure you reapply as much as needed.
- Don't play with fire. The fun of fireworks and outdoor grilling is an undeniably essential part of summer, but it's important to recognize that these activities can be dangerous; more than 10,000 people are injured every year due to fireworks. And 64 percent of annual fireworks-related injuries occur between June 22 and July 22. This summer, be safe: check out these fireworks safety guidelines and this guide to avoiding injuries near the grill.
And no matter where you are or what you're doing this summer, make sure you read up on these tips to beat the heat.