By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

One of the best ways to cool off during those hot summer days is to play in water. Children love to play in the water, whether they are at the beach, on a boat, swimming in a pool or wading pool, or at a water park. However, while water can be an enjoyable source of exercise for children, it can also be extremely dangerous. Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children between 1 and 14 years of age.

Drowning can occur in many different situations, including while boating or swimming — or even in the bathtub — and it can happen in as little as one inch of water.

A child can lose consciousness after two minutes under water and will have irreversible brain damage after four to six minutes. Most children who die from drowning are found after 10 minutes.

Drowning prevention can be simple, but there are many things that parents must do, such as actively supervising children, making the water environment safe, making sure they have proper swim gear and teaching children water safety.

Actively supervising your child means watching them closely the entire time that they are in the water. Most parents believe that they are watching their children while they play in the water, but many parents read, close their eyes and relax, drink alcohol, eat, or talk on the phone while their children are in the water. This is not active supervision.

Supervising children while they are swimming includes:

Never leave them alone while they are in or around water, even for a moment.

Never allow them to swim without an adult present.

Designating a “water watcher” — an adult supervisor whose sole responsibility is to constantly watch children while they are in or near the water.

Staying close enough so that they can see or hear you and so that you can help them if an emergency situation arises.

Keeping children who do not know how to swim within an arm’s reach at all times.

Do not engage in activities such as reading, talking on the phone or sleeping while your child is swimming.

Children should swim only in designated, supervised areas. Pools should have four-sided isolation fencing that is at least five feet high and equipped with self-closing, self-latching gates.

Children should wear appropriately sized U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices when on boats or near open bodies of water. The device should fit snugly and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through the neck opening. Air-filled swim aids aren’t safety devices and should not be used as such.

Enroll your child in swimming classes by age 8. Parents can check with the parks and recreation department or the Red Cross to find certified instructors. Classes should include emergency water survival techniques. If possible, parents and caregivers should learn infant and child CPR.

Teach children the rules of water safety:

Always swim with an adult present. If your child is older, make sure he always swims with a buddy.

Never swim in an open body of water or participate in water sports without wearing a PFD.

Never dive into a river, lake or ocean.

Call for help or throw something that floats to a person who is in trouble in the water.

A child should never enter the water to try to save someone.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.