Buddy system: Experts say best tip for water safety is to never swim alone

Buddy system: Experts say best tip for water safety is to never swim alone

June 28th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Alejandro Richter, right, teaches Izzy Norman, left, and Trey Green, about CPR.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


• There were 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non boating related) annually from 2005 to 2009.

• About one in five people who died from drowning were children 14 and younger.

• Nearly 80 percent of drowning victims were male.

• Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. Among that group, most die in home swimming pools.

The most common factors that lead to drowning deaths are:

1. Lack of swimming ability

2. Lack of barriers

3. Lack of close supervision

4. Failure to wear life jackets

5. Alcohol use


• All pools must be enclosed by a fence per national safety guidelines.

• All pools built in Tennessee after 2011 must now include an alarm.

• Teach your children to swim.

• Learn CPR.

• Always keep small children within arm's length.

• Children who can't swim should be outfitted with a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

• Teach kids that, if they do fall in, to swim for the side and pull themselves out.

Thanks to Katie Beth's Law, enacted in 2011, any Tennessee homeowner who installs a backyard pool must also install an alarm, which sounds when an object weighing 15 pounds or more breaks the surface.

Bruce Gans, president and owner of Tri-State Pools off Lee Highway, says the law, named for the late great-granddaughter of state Sen. Charlotte Burks, can help prevent accidental drownings. The law affects inground and above-ground pools. The alarms can add between $70 to $200 to the cost of installation, but more sophisticated systems, with cameras and alarms that sound in the house, can be more.

But the best advice, Gans says, is to always have an adult present. Gans has been in the pool business for 37 years.

"My opinion is the same now as it was then," he says, "and that is to have an adult out there for the kids, even if the kids are 20 years old. A 40-year-old man can drown by himself.

"There is nothing like [having] a mother and father there."

Backyard swimming pools, lakes, rivers and blue holes can be great sources of entertainment, family fun and relief from summer's heat, but they do require a good deal of precaution.

"Always be aware of the underwater dangers," cautions Harrison Bay State Park manager Don Campbell.

"There are things that can cut feet and hang onto arms and legs that you need to be aware of. Even in the old local swimming hole, you've got to know what is under there and the depth of the water."

Newer in-ground pools, according to Gans, should be built with two drains. This lessens the amount of suction one drain can have, thus reducing the chance of someone being pulled to the bottom and held there.

Lisa Becht, regional aquatic director with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, says that even with parents around, some guidelines should be followed. They are similar to what the Y teaches its lifeguards, she says.

"We tell our guards to scan the pool every 10 seconds - and not just side to side but up and down and top to bottom. We also tell them that if they are on the stand for awhile to switch positions."

For parents in the backyard, that would translate to making sure all angles of the pool can be seen.

It can be even more difficult at the lake, where the water is murky.

"With rivers and lakes, you can't see the bottom, so you don't know how deep or shallow it is, so I wouldn't have anyone dive unless you know it is a deep-end area," Becht says. "You always worry about marine life and if a boat is around. Make sure the motor is off, and have a life jacket.

"Also, if someone is having trouble, you can use a paddle or a noodle, something with some length that they can grab onto."

Campbell says he'd like to see people have a flotation device at the ready at all times, "even when just wading a sandbar."

"And always have someone there with you."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.