SOUTHERN INDIANA — Students are out of school in Southern Indiana, which means that many kids will be jumping into pools, lakes and other bodies of water to stay cool in the heat of summer.
As adults and children spend time around the water this summer, it is important to understand the risks and to be aware of water safety. The News and Tribune spoke with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the local YMCA to learn more about what people can do to prevent drownings.
A total of 114 people died from drowning in 2017 in Indiana, including 29 deaths among kids ages newborn to 12, according to the DNR's 2017 Drowning Prevention Report. The Center for Disease Control says drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children ages 1 to 14, and it is the number one cause of death for kids ages 1 to 4.
The report shows that more than half of drowning incidents among infants under age 1 took place in bathtubs, Private ponds made up 23 percent of drowning locations, while pools were 22 percent, lakes were 17 percent and rivers were 15 percent.
Falling into water made up 27 percent of leading drowning activities, while swimming made up 19 percent, according to the report, Leading causes of drowning include lack of supervision and lack of barriers to the water.
Steve Tarver, president and CEO at the YMCA of Greater Louisville, said adult supervision is key to keeping kids safe in the water. He has extensive experience as a YMCA aquatic director, swim instructor and lifeguard.
Flotation devices also should not be completely relied upon for safety, and they don't take the place of supervising children, he said.
"Watch, watch, watch," Tarver said. "Supervise the children. There is no such thing as a drown-proof child, unfortunately, so that's very critical."
He said it's important for parents to remember that children's swimming skills can regress after months without practice, and he stresses the importance of continued swimming practice.
For instruction, he said they should pick a place where the child is comfortable, and he recommends swim lessons that focus on building skills beyond the basics, so kids can learn skills that go further than just the survival level techniques, including the "fun things of getting a feel for the water."
It is also important for people to become familiar with their environments, and one should enter any body of water feet first until they are completely sure of their surroundings, Tarver said.
"First time in should always be feet first, and preferably in shallow water to find out what the depths are" he said. "Even skilled children step into a pool in the deep end not realizing it's the deep end because they get so excited, and they hit that and they don't realize they're in water over their head. Even when they're skilled, it can throw them and they can take a gasp of air and it's water instead. It can throw them into a quick panic, so it's pretty dangerous."
The buddy system is another important piece of water safety in any aquatic environment, he said, and swimming alone is always a bad idea.
Adults should also make sure they carefully control access to their swimming pools at home by placing barriers around the water, particularly to protect infants and toddlers from drowning, he said. People should also remember to walk instead of run near the water.
Tarver said children who are most fearful are typically those who are not exposed to water on a regular basis, or they are in families with a generational fear of water. He recommends that adults who are afraid of the water enroll themselves in swim classes before enrolling their child in a class.
He said in addition to reducing drowning risks, learning to swim has many other benefits that people should consider. He said he has taught thousands of kids to swim, and he loves seeing the confidence that comes with it.
"Swimming has a skill benefit, it has a safety benefit and it has a health benefit," Tarver said. "It's a sport that you can do for your lifetime."
New Albany resident Dan Marsden took his 4-year-old son, Elisha, to swim lessons Thursday at the Floyd County Family YMCA. They started the classes on Tuesday.
"I feel like it's a really important life skill to learn as soon as possible so you don't drown when you are in deep water," he said. "I didn't learn to swim until I was like 10 years old, and I kind of taught myself, so I didn't have this opportunity, and I wanted to make sure he learns how to swim as soon as possible."
Capt. Jet Quillen, public relations captain with the DNR, said one of the most important things to understand is that children will be drawn to water, whether they want to swim or not. Even if they are just sitting by a lake, parents need to have a conversation with their children about the risks posed by the water and make sure the kids are not alone, he said.
He said U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets always need to be used if someone is going into a body of water. If they are in a boat, there needs to be enough life jackets for everyone onboard, and they need to have appropriate jacket sizes for adults and children.
"Life jackets are going to be your safest bet for safety and preventing the tragedies of drowning," he said.
Quillen said with the amount of rain in past weeks and months, there have been increased instances of elevated water in bodies like rivers and creeks, which poses additional risks. He urges people to weigh the dangers of using the waterways in such conditions.
"We want people to enjoy recreation on waterways and utilize resources in our state, but we want them to do it safely," he said.