Memorial Day weekend marks the official beginning of swim season in Lawrence. The municipal pool opens for the summer May 23 and many owners of backyard pools rev up their private oases by then as well.
The prospect of a whole summer of water fun shouldn't make swimmers lax about safety, though, water safety experts say.
Bob Lockwood, manager of the Lawrence Municipal Pool, Eighth and Kentucky, said about 200 safety precautions guided the operation of the city's pool. Among the precautions he emphasized this year were protection from the sun, taking care when diving headfirst into the water and being safe on the pool deck.
"Kids need to have some protection" from the sun, Lockwood said, noting there were many good sunscreens on the market.
HE SAID MORE morning and evening swimming would be promoted to help keep children out of the midday sun and hottest temperatures of the day. The wearing of shirts, hats and sunglasses, particularly by lifeguards, also will be encouraged.
Noting headfirst water entries present the jeopardy of neck and spinal injury, Lockwood said, "Know water depth and what's in the water before entering." A new red diving restriction line has been painted at the municipal pool to help keep swimmers from diving in too shallow an area.
Deck safety may not involve swimming, but it's important at a pool, Lockwood said, because more injuries occur there than in the water.
Annette McDonald, water safety instructor trainer said among safety guides for backyard pools were such rules as "never swim alone" and "never allow children to swim unsupervised" even if they'd had swimming lessons.
MCDONALD, who also is the health and safety chair for the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross' board of directors, said lone swimmers had no one to help them or go for help should they panic, exhaust themselves or suffer cramps. Children, she said, could "overestimate their ability," thereby endangering themselves.
Particularly when children, or adults, swim for extended periods on hot days, she said, their judgment can be clouded. When alcohol is added to that scenerio, the result can be deadly.
McDonald said all swimmers needed to develop the habit of anticipating potential dangers. She also reminded swimmers that chewing gum while in the water was "real, real dangerous" a gulp for air can drive the gum into a swimmer's esophagus, preventing breathing.
Lifeguard training, which McDonald termed "pretty extensive," reflects the importance of being a fit swimmer.
She said the instruction now stressed fitness through regular conditioning swims so a person was prepared to do a water rescue at any time.
MANY PRETEENS and young teen-agers, she added, begin to feel too old to take swim lessons, but if they aspire to being a lifeguard, they need to continue the classes. During such instruction, she explained, strokes are perfected and conditioning begun so the youth are ready for the rigors of formal training, which they can begin at age 15.
McDonald added that the Red Cross' basic water safety class, which takes only nine hours, was a "real good course for people with their own backyard pools."
Both she and Lockwood advised special concern when swimming with small children.
Lockwood emphasized the importance of teaching little children that to make the water "fun," they must learn proper rules and techniques.
"We're not a water animal," he said. "We have to learn how to swim."
ACCORDING TO Consumer News, a publication of the Insurance Information Institute, each year about 43,000 people are injured in and around swimming pools and about 650 people drown in home or public pools.
Half of the pool fatalities occur in the yards of single-family homes.
"Setting and following pool rules and practicing safety at all times can help ensure a fun-filled season," said Barbara Taylor, a consumer consultant for the institute, which is a consumer, education, research and communications organization.
She noted that home pool alarms, which ring when a person or object enters the water, cannot substitute for an adult supervisor poolside.
"By the time you can respond (to a pool alarm)," she said, "it may already be too late."
Following are more safety tips for swimmers from the institute:
Check the pool area regularly for glasses, bottles, toys and other potential accident hazards.
Keep electrical devices away from pools.
Stay out of the pool during thunderstorms.
Treat diving boards with respect. Never dive into an above-ground pool, look for at least 9 feet of water in an in-ground pool and keep clear of the area near a diving board.