Summer weather is finally here, and while splashing in the water to cool off is fun, there are also dangers that lurk in the waves.
“Anywhere there isn’t extra supervision around the water is dangerous,” said Mark Aker, aquatics coordinator for James City County Parks and Recreation.
The greater Williamsburg area has a number of water attractions, from Water Country USA to beaches to community pools. But all of them also pose potential threats, especially for young children.
Parents should always maintain constant supervision of their children whenever they are near a large body of water, Akers said, noting that disaster can strike in an instant.
“Never assume someone is watching your child,” said Kyle Kramer, Williamsburg director of aquatics for Great Wolf Resorts. “Even with lifeguards nearby, you have the responsibility for your child.”
Kramer suggests using life vests to keep children safe in the water.
Akers urged parents to avoid using flotation wings because they can pop and leave a child without support.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s swimming ability should enroll them in classes, Aker said.
The R.F. Wilkinson Family YMCA in Williamsburg offers three types of swim classes, including ones for children as young as 6 months. That course helps to teach parents swimming safety with young children as well as helping a baby and parent to become comfortable in the water together.
There is also a class for preschool children that teaches swimming basics and one for older swimmers that teaches various stroke techniques and other skills.
Different bodies of water
With the variety of swimming options in the area, there is also a spectrum of dangers as well.
For swimming somewhere like an outdoor lake, there can be concerns about snakes or other aquatic creatures.
“When it comes to wildlife, you don’t really know if something is around until you actually see it, so knowing what to keep an eye out for is a huge part of safety,” Akers said.
Parents and children can easily become separated at theme parks such as Great Wolf Lodge or Water Country USA, Kramer said. He also suggested that parents should scope out the park beforehand and plan a rendezvous spot so family members will know where to go if they get lost.
Becoming familiar with the types of rides in a waterpark also is a good idea, Akers said. For example, the wave pool at Water Country USA produces waves at certain intervals, and knowing those cycles will help parents secure their children before they are hit by the roiling water, he said.
Hitting the local beaches requires preparation as well, and Aker recommends taking a look at the water conditions, such as high and low tide and rip currents. Typically, this information can be found at a lifeguard stand or online.
One often ignored danger is sunlight beating down on exposed skin. Both Aker and Kramer suggest reapplying waterproof and sweat-proof sunblock every 80 minutes and finding shade. Peak sun exposure times are between noon and 3 p.m., they said.
Vigilance is the most important aspect of water safety, Akers said.
“If you see someone struggling in the water, call for help,” Kramer said. “Remember ‘reach or throw, don’t go!’ Even professionally trained lifeguards don’t enter the water without having proper flotation devices to keep themselves safe.”