Prevent tragedy: Hone your water safety IQ
October 19, 2017 | 81° | Check Traffic


Prevent tragedy: Hone your water safety IQ

  • DENNIS ODA / 2013
    Sharks Cove is often crowded with swimmers and beachgoers. Drowning is possible even in water this shallow, and it can happen in minutes.

With school kids starting their summer break, more families may be hitting the beaches or having pool parties. Last month was National Water Safety Month, which, if it were celebrated with a party, would not feature alcohol (a definite no-no whenever you’re around water) and would have a required dress code (life jackets).

Why not mark the occasion by seeing how you do on a test? Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning, two of them children age 14 or younger.

"A lot of people assume knowledge about water, in particular that drowning’s easy to notice and it takes time," said Craig Sears, founder of the Greater Atlanta Water Safety Alliance. "In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what happens."

What’s your Water Safety Wisdom level? Take our quiz, which is mostly aimed at pools but contains sound information for staying safe wherever you may find yourself around water.


QUESTION: True or false: If you don’t go swimming, you can’t drown.

ANSWER: False. "Two-thirds of the people who drown (each year) never had any intention of being in the water," according to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

Q: True or false: Everyone should learn to swim, even if they’re adults or don’t plan on spending time at the pool or beach.

A: True.

Q: Which gender drowns more often? (a) males; (b) females; (c) trick question, males and females drown at the same rate.

A: (a) Nearly 80 percent of all people who drown are male, according to the CDC. Some experts think males’ higher risk-taking tendencies and drinking could help explain the huge disparity (among all adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation and 1 in 5 boating deaths).

Q: True or false: Children age 1-4 most often drown in home pools.

A: True.

Q: True or false: Children under age 1 most often drown in home pools.

A: False. Children in this age group most often drown in bathtubs, buckets or toilets, according to the American Red Cross, which suggests using safety locks on toilets and always keeping toilet lids down and bathroom doors closed. Empty buckets immediately after use, and never leave a filled bucket or bathtub unattended.


Q: Drowning can occur in less than: (a) 15 minutes; (b) three minutes; (c) four minutes; (d) one minute; (e) 10 minutes.

A: (d) one minute

Q: A person who’s drowning is more likely to: (a) scream for help; (b) thrash about and wave his arms; (c) both; (d) neither.

A: (d). A swimmer in distress may still be able to stay afloat, shout and attract attention. But an active drowning victim devotes all his energy to the struggle to breathe. He can’t call out for help, and his arms press down at his sides in an instinctive attempt to keep his head above water.

Q: True or false: When supervising children or other inexperienced swimmers in or around water, stand no farther than 10 feet away.

A: False. Always keep them within arm’s reach. What’s called "touch supervision" provides an added layer of protection even when certified lifeguards are on duty. Even stronger swimmers should always "buddy swim" at pools, lakes and other natural bodies of water, where distress caused by cramps, seizures, riptides or adverse weather conditions can strike without warning.

Q: True or false: If someone is missing, you should always check the water first.

A: True. Seconds count when someone can drown in less time than it takes 911 to pick up (have someone else make that call if needed).


Q: True or false: If someone’s struggling in the water, always swim out to help them as fast as possible.

A: False. Certified lifeguards are trained to do in-water rescues without becoming victims themselves. Follow the Red Cross’s "Reach or Throw, Don’t Go" policy to keep yourself out of danger. If the victim is close enough, brace yourself on the pool deck, pier or shoreline and extend a pole, paddle, tree branch — even an article of clothing — and slowly pull the victim to safety. Or, get the victim’s attention and then throw him a buoyant object with a line attached (ring buoys, floating cushion, even a small cooler). Lean back from the water while pulling him into safety. (If the water is safe and shallow — not over your chest — you can attempt a wading rescue. Take along something to extend your reach, and keep it between you and the victim. If possible, wear a life jacket yourself.)

Q: A safety-equipped pool has all but one of the following items: (a) ring buoy; (b) first-aid kit; (c) phone; (d) water wings, "noodles" or inflatables; (e) shepherd’s crook; (f) CPR instructions.

A: (d). Inflatables and toys are not designed to be used as substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, which the Red Cross recommends young children or inexperienced swimmers wear around water. (Besides a cellphone preprogrammed to call 911 and other emergency numbers, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommends keeping a dedicated phone at poolside so you never have to leave the pool unattended to answer calls inside the house.)

Q: True or false: It’s OK to watch the water and quickly check Facebook and Twitter on your cellphone, because "it’ll only take a minute!"

A: False! Don’t let anything distract you. Remember, disaster can strike in under a minute.


» The "Swim by American Red Cross" app is free for iPhone and Android devices. It contains safety information and quizzes, including some aimed specifically at kids. You can also find courses and track your child’s progress through various levels of swim instruction.

» CDC:

» National Drowning Prevention Alliance:


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