Like a picnic calls out to ants, water entices kids. In a matter of seconds, a child can find the nearest body of water, no matter how small. The attraction can be cute, but around a pool or spa, it can quickly turn watery fun into a life-threatening event.
It’s not hard to keep kids safe around water, but it does take attention. “The No. 1 thing you can do to keep your kids safe around water is to make sure you are watching,” says Suzanne Barrows, spokesperson for the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP). Beyond that, however, smart strategies and clever products make the task of supervision a lot easier, helping to ensure a happy and safe summer for everyone.
Assign Water-Watcher Duty
He thought she was watching, and she thought he was watching. Put an end to this confusion by assigning an adult to water-watcher duty. Like a school hall monitor’s badge, a tag to hold or wear around your neck can be an easy reminder of who’s on duty. Divvy up the responsibility at a pool party by passing the reminder tag every hour or so. Make your own tags, or check with your local fire department for premade versions.
Erect a Fence with a Gate
Climb-resistant fencing provides a crucial physical barrier to the pool. In fact, most local codes require it; check with local authorities for specific requirements. In general, to deter kids, the fence should be at least 4 feet tall with a gate that closes and locks on its own. You have your choice of materials; some are decorative while others are almost invisible so the fence doesn’t obstruct your view as much. Lessen the chance of kids wanting to enter the area by moving their toys outside the fence.
Keep Floats Handy
Traditional pool floats are essential poolside gear. They’re easy to toss and can give swimmers in distress a chance to regain their composure. Even better, personal flotation devices (PFDs, or life vests) give an additional measure of safety to the wearer, especially for toddlers who play around the pool. Swimwear with floating inserts is an easy way to incorporate safety into your kids’ swim gear, and they’re fashion-friendly too!
Many drownings happen when a supervising adult is talking to someone else, according to the APSP. Adding a cordless phone to your house line means you won’t have to run inside to answer it, leaving your child unattended. Even so, keep poolside conversations short.
Install a Cover
Safety covers provide the best protection against falling into a pool, and they help keep your pool clean as well. Make sure you select a cover that will support the weight of a person — some are designed only for keeping debris out. Look for a cover, either rigid plastic or metal, or flexible vinyl or fabric, that completely seals off the pool. Although some pools may be retrofitted with power covers, you'll get a seamless look if installed as original equipment. Powered units can run several thousand dollars. Covers that you stretch over the pool yourself and attach to fasteners in the surrounding deck may cost considerably less and can be made for any pool shape. One advantage of a powered unit, however, is that you can cover the pool at the flip of a switch. This makes it practical to use much more frequently than covers you must attach manually.
Noisy alarms come in a variety of models. Door or gate alarms go off when an unauthorized person uses the gate (a touch pad allows an adult to pass through without setting off the alarm). In-pool alarms sound when the water is disturbed. Perimeter alarms are triggered when a light beam, similar to those that stop a garage door from closing when something is in the way, is broken. One newer innovation on the market is a locking child’s wristband that, when immersed in water, triggers a base station alarm. Keep in mind that any alarm, no matter how sensitive or innovative, is only helpful if an adult is nearby to hear it.