Summer Water Safety: What You Absolutely Need to Know Now

Ask the Experts

Chitkara Maribeth Chitkara, MD
Pediatric Hospitalist, Stony Brook Children's
Associate Professor, Stony Brook University School of Medicine

Long Island, with its miles of beaches and acres of pools, is the ideal place to enjoy the delights of summer. But along with the fun of swimming, body surfing or just paddling around come some real dangers — including the risk for drowning. Statistics show that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury and death for children ages one to four, and that drowning can occur in as little as two inches of water. For tips on water safety, Stony Brook’s Dr. Maribeth Chitkara, one of Long Island’s most committed advocates for summer safety, discusses steps you can take today to keep yourself, your family and your children safe all summer long.

What is the single most important thing to know about water safety? 
Never take your eyes off children who are in the water. Not even for a few seconds. Nine out of 10 drowning deaths occur when a caregiver is supervising but not paying attention. If you are at a party or with a group of people, have what the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force calls a “designated waterwatcher.” Designate one person to keep a watchful eye on the children and rotate the assignment every 20 minutes or so to keep the watcher fresh. It is important to keep an eye on children and especially toddlers when around any kind of water — small kiddie pools, toilets, buckets of water when washing the car and the like.

What are some other water safety tips?
• If a lifeguard is present, never assume that he or she will serve as your eyes.
• Always keep a phone near the pool.
• If you have a pool, complete four-sided isolation fencing can prevent 50 to 90 percent of child drownings or near drownings.
• You may consider investing in safety covers for pools, whirlpools and spa tubs.
• If you have an infant or toddler, use a toilet seat lock.
• Keep in mind that water reflects the sun’s rays. For protection against harmful rays, be sure to use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Reapply frequently, especially after going into the water.
• If you will be outdoors for a good part of the day, be sure to stay hydrated to prevent heat stroke or exhaustion — especially if you are also exercising. Water is the best source of hydration for the body, and a good rule of thumb to remember is the “8 x 8” and “10 x 10 rule”: Women should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily and men should drink ten 10-ounce glasses daily.

What should you do if someone is drowning?
It is important to get the person out of the water as soon as possible to get oxygen to their brain. If you can safely get the person onto land, do so; if not, immediately call for help. If there is a lifeguard present, enlist his or her aid. They are trained in water rescue and resuscitation. Otherwise, call 911 immediately.

Once the person has been rescued, appropriate and timely medical treatment is essential. With near drowning, the victim suffers oxygen deprivation, which can cause long-term brain damage. In these cases, every minute counts. Whenever possible, the victim should be taken to a Level 1 Trauma Center — a designation indicating the highest level of care — where trauma experts such as those at Stony Brook are experienced in caring for near-drowning patients. This will save valuable time in transferring a patient, should serious problems arise.

Where can people get more information about water safety?
The Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force has developed a comprehensive water safety education program. For information, visit This is a great resource for families.

For more information on how to keep your family water safe, call (631) 444-KIDS to schedule an appointment with one of our primary care pediatricians.

For more information about Stony Brook Medicine, call (631) 444-4000.

All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.