Author Archives: Mario Vittone

Sun, Sand, and Waves – Keeping Safe at the Beach Part 1

by Mario Vittone

It’s that time of year again – Beach time! To me, almost nothing is more fun than a day (or ten) of blue skies, sun, and surf. While fun, beaches have their own set of hazards. But you can manage them by doing just a few things before you set-up the chairs and point the kids at the waves. Here’s what to do:

Talk to the Guards

My first and best advice is to try to swim at beaches where there are lifeguards present. The United States Life Saving Association (USLA) estimates the chance of drowning on a guarded beach is 1 in 18,000,000.  Even so, the same rules about close supervision still apply, the surf is a whole different kind of water and beach guards are trained to handle it.

Make sure to talk to the guards before hitting the waves. Even if you have tons of experience and you know what you’re doing in the water, local guards usually know more and have been studying the waves on their beach.  They can warn you against dangerous currents or rough water, clue you in to local hazards like jellyfish or other pesky critters. The point is to talk to the pros before you go and be as aware as you can of the conditions.

I once nonchalantly asked a lifeguard, “How’s the water today?” – I wasn’t expecting anything but a casual answer.  “Good so long as you stay out of there,” he said, pointing out two serious rip currents that I couldn’t see from my vantage point.  He had a much better view from his elevated chair than I did and could easily see the rip currents that I hadn’t noticed.

Stay Safe at the Beach

Spot, Avoid, and Know How to Handle Rip Currents

All that water rolling in on the waves has to go back out. In certain conditions, that returning water is channeled into columns of seagoing water. That’s what a rip current is. Sometimes they move slow enough to barely be detected. But given the right circumstances relating to waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to 8 feet per second – faster than anyone could possibly swim. Ranging in size from just a few feet to hundreds of yards, their pull can be to just outside of the breaking waves to over a hundred yards from shore.

As with all risks, avoiding it altogether is best. Though not always visually detectable (Again, ask that guard) stronger rip currents can give off some telltale signs. Look at the water and you may see:

  • An area of water through a surf zone that is a different color than the surrounding water
  • A break in the incoming pattern of waves – creating a smooth patch of water*
  • Seaweed or debris moving out through the surf zone
  • Isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone

*Many assume the calm water at the beach is the safest place to swim, but be aware that the safe looking water may just look that way.

If you are caught in a rip current, the primary thing to do is to stay calm and relax. Swim slowly and conservatively parallel to the shoreline or relax, practice your best float or treading water technique and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slacks. Signal towards shore for assistance by raising an arm or waving, but stay calm. Don’t struggle against the current.

Contrary to myth – rip currents are not “undertow,” a misleading term. They will not pull you under the water. So long as you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back. When you head back in, do so at an angle to the shoreline. Again, maintain a slow and relaxed pace until you reach the shore or assistance has arrived. If swimming at a guarded beach ─ and you should be ─ they will most likely have seen you and will be on their way out (or watching carefully).

(Discuss rip currents and how to deal with them with your children. In fact, make them read every page of www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov and write you a report!)

Buddy Rules Apply

No one, not even experienced and strong swimmers, should swim alone. If that is important in pools (and it is) then it’s vital in open water. Personally, I don’t advocate even knee-deep wades into the surf line if you’re alone. In all but the most sloping and gentle beach, the bottom is a mystery at times and you can find yourself swimming when you didn’t intend to – like in the video below:

Have you had a close call at the beach with rough water or a rip current? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below – and if you have any questions at all feel free to ask there too.

Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll take on the sun, the sand, and things that sting. Until then, stay safe out there!

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

What’s in Store This Year From Water Safety Expert, Mario Vittone


by Mario Vittone
Mario Vittone

Welcome to another season of safe swimming and fun at A Water-Full Life! This is my third year writing water safety advice and tips for parents at Swimways.com. I’m really looking forward to this year because we’ve decided to change direction and head to the beach and beyond.

We know you won’t only be in the back yard pool and wanted to give you safety tips for all destinations. I’ll give you my best safety tips for trips to the beach; what to watch for in the surf and the sand. I’ll give you a checklist and good advice on how to take your family on boating adventures while on vacation. You’ll get my thoughts on parasailing, life jacket use, fishing trips, sun safety, and how to avoid and handle jelly fish and other things that sting. We’re even going to cover cruise ships and help you stay safe at sea.

We know that fun in the water is more than just backyard pools and this year we are going to help you and your family be safe no matter where you are this summer. And something else is new for this year’s blog – video! I’ll take you to the beach to show you a rip current develop; we’ll go on a charter boat and show you what you should know about those adventures; you’ll see me find out just how deep the water is even when it looks shallow!

So stay tuned right here to the Water-Full Life Blog. You’ll have fun and be safe wherever the water takes you.

Mario

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

Proper Pool Care for Babies and Children

by Mario Vittone

Just because the water looks blue and clear doesn’t mean it’s in the best shape for a swim. There are water conditions besides blue and clear that can have a real effect on the healthy use of the water. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your pool water is at its best for all your little swimmers.

Baby in a swim diaper at the pool

pH Balance and Disinfectants

pH is an indicator of water balance, which is an indicator of pool health. 7.2 to 7.8 is the safe range, but when bringing your kids in the water, especially infants and toddlers, you want the water to be ideal. The National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) recommends 7.4 to 7.6 to keep eye irritation at a minimum. If your child’s eyes are stinging, they won’t be having fun and that makes learning much harder. With pH test strips, you can easily check your pool before each swim to make sure levels are optimal. The pH level also affects how well your disinfectant does its job of killing bacteria.

No matter which disinfectant you use for your pool (chlorine is the most common), having those chemicals at the proper level is also very important. Most people believe that when they smell chlorine there is too much in the pool, but that irritating chlorine smell is caused by the presence of chloramines, often caused by too little free chlorine in the water. When we go swimming, we bring any lotions and oils and even the sweat and dirt that’s on our skin into the water, and too much of it can overload the disinfectant in the water. Aquatics expert Dr. Tom Griffiths says, “If the free chlorine levels are not sufficiently high to oxidize these nitrogenous wastes, the free chlorine combines with them to form noxious chloramine compounds.”

To reduce the chance of excessive chloramines in your pool, be sure to keep disinfectant levels where they need to be. “Whenever someone calls me with a chloramine problem, I tell them they should maintain a free residual of 0.5 ppm higher than usual. This higher level of chlorine usually does the trick, says Griffiths. “Another remedy that is rarely used but very effective is to enforce soap showers prior to swimming. A soap shower will remove excess body oils and sweat and greatly reducing the amount of body waste going into the pool. Some pool chemists claim that if everyone showered prior to swimming, it would reduce the chlorine demand by 50%.”

How and When to Test

Know your system, and know the maintenance demands for it. “For most people it’s a time issue- they hire someone so they don’t have to learn the proper chemistry and maintain it. I use a professional kit and test for alkalinity, pH, free and total chlorine, and calcium,” says Kevin Richardson, owner of Clear Water Pools in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Pool owners can also take a water sample to a local pool company- they’ll test it and give you a printout with exactly what you need.”

But you’re going to want to do at least minimal testing yourself to make sure things are safe for your young swimmers. Richardson recommends using a test strip daily to check water balance, and at a bare minimum doing so once a week. The NSPF recommends taking a water sample to a professional for testing every four to six weeks. This ensures that your at-home assessments are accurate. Salt water systems can be harder to keep balanced, so be sure to check these per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Check the Temps

Until children are a year old, their ability to regulate body temperature may not be fully developed. So water temperature is very important when bringing your babies in the water. Dr. Howard Reinstein, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, believes that water temperature should be around 84 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit for babies to be comfortable. Watch them closely for signs of shivering and get them out if it begins. Too hot can be a problem as well- hot tubs over 100 degrees are off-limits for children under 5 years of age. They can easily overheat in those conditions so be aware of temperatures in your pools and spas.

So you see, it’s more than just clean and clear that matter when keeping your pool safe and healthy for your family. You want the water warm enough and balanced correctly to make sure that you get the most out of your pool without it taking too much out of you. If you want to know more about proper pool care and how to maintain your pool or spa at its best, the National Swimming Pool Foundation partnered with the American Red Cross to develop an excellent online training program for homeowners that contains a wealth of information about pool chemicals and filtration systems, testing and cleaning, and a very good section of general pool safety matters that all parents should know.

Learn More

For a discount code and a link to the NSPF Home Pool Essential course (I took it!) visit the National Drowning Prevention Alliance website. Even old hands at pool care will learn a thing or two about safely operating a backyard pool.

Do you have any pool care questions? Join the discussion in the comments below.

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page