If you use the community pool, make sure you see easily accessible lifesaving equipment — one or more shepherd’s crooks and ring buoys with coiled lines, designed to be thrown. Even though most lifeguards are trained to jump in with a red, belt-shaped rescue tube to assist distressed swimmers, other equipment may be needed as well. If you don’t see it, ask the lifeguard supervisor where it is — and where the staff keeps the AED.
Don’t assume that the lifeguards are all-seeing and leave your kids to their care. Guards can be distracted. If you see one engrossed in a conversation with someone standing beside the lifeguard chair, or focused on an attractive swimmer in a revealing suit, or nodding off, take it up with the supervisor.
At the beach, familiarize yourself with the system of green and red flags that separate the guarded areas from the off-limits “flats.” Ask a lifeguard about any unusual conditions in the water, and especially about rip currents — areas of telltale brown, churning water where a series of spent waves are rushing back out from shore with such force that swimmers who venture into the area, no matter how strong they are, are quickly swept out into deeper water.
If you feel yourself being dragged out by a rip — also known, in lifeguard-ese, as a “puss” or “suck” — the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Most rip currents are narrow, and if you swim parallel to shore just a few yards in either direction, you’ll be free of the outgoing flume and can make your way back to shore. You’ll rarely have to do that on your own, though, because a well-trained guard will recognize what’s about to happen to you before it happens, and swim out to lend a hand.
Watch the lifeguards long enough, in fact, and you will no doubt resolve to be extra vigilant whenever your children are in the water, whether in the ocean or the shallow end of a pool. Swimmers who are in serious trouble rarely wave or shout. They are focused only on staying afloat, and that takes every ounce of energy they have left. Recognizing when they’re in danger takes attention and focus — a useful guideline even when your kids are having the time of their lives at the pool or beach this summer. Keep them in sight, and keep them safe.