Anxious for warmer weather, it isn’t long after the ice goes out on local lakes and ponds before most of us start to think about summer. Whether it’s visiting a favorite swimming hole, kayaking, trying out a stand-up paddle board, making a trip to the beach on a hot day, or hanging out in a backyard or neighborhood pool, we are fortunate that there are almost endless ways to enjoy the water in our region.

I grew up swimming, starting at the age of 1 in my local YMCA pool. From that point, my love of all things aquatic has only grown and I have made a home at Y’s throughout my life. The fact that my first swim experience was at a Y certainly doesn’t make me unique. Each year, 1 million kids across the country are involved in Y swim lessons and water safety programs!

Today, as the Director of Aquatics at the Greater Burlington YMCA, my love of the water is only tempered by a twinge of anxiety I get each year around this time. So, why am I anxious? Well, I am not alone in a love of the water. As we say at the Y, “The world may be 71% water, but children are 100% curious.”

I get nervous because children have outgrown last year’s life jackets; inexperienced swimmers haven’t used their still-developing skills in months; the appeal of swift water and rock ledges make some forget about their dangers; too many beaches and pools are without lifeguards; and too many boaters drive under the influence.

To combat my anxiety over water safety, I re-dedicate myself to educating families and caregivers in our community on how to keep people safe around water.

As we look to enjoy the water this summer, here are some safety tips to keep in mind so that you and those in your care are safe:

  • Never swim alone.
  • Whenever possible, swim when and where there is a lifeguard on duty.
  • Adults should constantly and actively watch young children. Put down cell phones. Parents or guardians of young children should be within an arm’s reach.
  • Inexperienced or non-swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Never depend on inflatable floaties and toys; they are designed to entertain, not to save lives.
  • If a swimmer is struggling, use the “reach and throw, don’t go” approach. Extend something to them (a branch, a pole, etc.) or throw them something that can float.
  • Check the pool. Does it have a fence and working gate that stays shut? A weight-bearing pool cover?
  • Avoid the risk of Shallow Water Blackout – children and adults should not engage in breath-holding activities or vigorous cardiac activity right before jumping into water.
  • Beware of the risk of changing water conditions – depth, speed of water, temperature – particularly true after a rainstorm, when river waters are high and fast.
  • Avoid the risk of a head or neck injury. Never dive headfirst into shallow water, water of unknown depth, or an above-ground pool.
  • Learn to swim. At six months, children can start swimming lessons. Adults who don’t know how should learn to swim too.

If you want to learn more about swim and water safety opportunities at the Y, contact me at 802-652-8143 or by email at jliukas@gbymca.org. Interested in swim lessons, visit www.gbymca.org/youth-swim-lessons.

Together, we can work to prevent water emergencies this summer – the greatest time of year!

Jess Lukas is the Director of Aquatics at the Greater Burlington YMCA and has worked at Y’s for 22 years.

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