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Are you 'water competent'? What to know before your family hits the pool or beach

These smart tips will ensure safe summer fun for all levels of swimmers.
/ Source: TODAY

Summer is here and that means days spent by pools, beaches and lakes. But even when parents are good swimmers — and even when kids know how to swim, too — accidents can happen, and some can even be deadly. According to the American Red Cross, anywhere there is water, there is a risk of drowning, especially for children. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children in the United States. Thankfully, there are things we can do to promote water safety and prevent drownings and all it takes is some simple skills and increased awareness.

Learn to swim

Before going in, on or around the water,every family member should become “water competent.” This starts with being “water smart,” making good choices, learning to swim and how to handle emergencies.

“The American Red Cross recommends that every member of your family learns to swim so they can, at a minimum, achieve the skills of water competency in the environment in which they will be swimming," said Bridget McKinney, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. "They should be able to enter the water, get a breath, stay afloat, change position and locate an exit, swim for a distance and then get out of the water safely."

McKinney says it's important to understand that what a person can achieve in one environment, such as a pool, may not be what they can perform in another environment, such as the ocean. "It takes more skill and confidence to handle yourself when there are additional factors, such as waves, a soft bottom and cooler water," said McKinney. "People should continue through progressive levels of swim lessons so they build on their skills and endurance which will also help build confidence.”

Designate a 'water watcher'

One of the best ideas is to designate a water watcher. With this handy, printable card from the American Red Cross, the duties of the water watcher are explained, including watching in-water activity without distraction, stopping dangerous activities and responding to emergencies. The Red Cross suggests you laminate the card and put it on a lanyard so that the water watcher on duty can wear it around their neck and be identifiable to all. Switch watchers every 15 minutes and the watcher should not go off duty until the card is passed to the next watcher.

Learn CPR

Everyone who is responsible for watching children should learn first aid and CPR, so they’ll know what to do until help arrives.

This summer, adults should make it a priority to get certified as correctly performing CPR can mean the difference between life or death as you wait for EMS to arrive. You can click here to find a CPR class near you.

Heed the advice to 'reach and throw, don't go!'

In the event of an emergency, reach or throw an object to the person in trouble. Don’t go in! You could become a victim yourself. Have someone call 911. Give care as needed.

Summer water fun can be enjoyable and with the measures in place, everyone will also stay safe. Be sure to prevent unsupervised access to water by fencing in pools and spas with adequate barriers and by keeping a constant eye for any water dangers such as portable splash pools and slides, buckets and bathtubs.

Parents and caregivers can also download the Red Cross Swim app for safety tips, kid-friendly videos and activities and take the free Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers online course.