Water Safety Tips from the Red Cross of Alaska
By Lisa Miller, Red Cross of Alaska Regional Communications Officer
In Alaska, we are great at capitalizing on these short but precious summer months. With nearly 24 hours of sunlight and endless exploration opportunities, adults and children alike are itching to get out and get on the water.
Whether you’re heading out for a day of deep sea halibut fishing, or kayaking around your neighborhood lake, take a few moments to consider these aquatic safety tips from the Red Cross of Alaska before you and the kids head out to make a splash.
First thing’s first. Before making plans to spend time in or around water with your children, make sure you all know how to swim.
It is the mission of the Red Cross to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety program helps fulfill that mission by teaching people to be safe in, on and around the water through water safety courses for individuals of a wide range of ages and abilities. American Red Cross Aquatics and Safety Classes are offered at many pools across the state of Alaska. Call your local pool to learn more about classes.
Once the entire family knows how to swim, you’re ready to plan your first trip out on the water. As your trip draws near, remember to check the weather. Weather conditions can change suddenly, so always check the forecast before heading out.
In the event you run into bad weather or an emergency situation, Ray Miller, a Red Cross of Alaska volunteer and member of the United States Power Squadrons (USPS) in Fairbanks, says it’s a good idea to pack some means of communicating, such as a whistle and signal mirror that can be used to alert a rescuer. A hand crank radio is a good item to have packed away in a wet bag as well. It will ensure you always have a way to tune in to local weather reports and emergency messaging.
You can build your own boat first aid/survival kit, or shop the Red Cross Store for a ready-to-go kit.
Miller also suggests telling someone when you go out on the water. If you are going out for just a few hours, let someone know where you plan to go, and when you will return. If you are planning a boat trip longer than a few hours, Miller says to file a written float plan. According to the USPS, a float plan includes a description of your boat, who is on board, a description of the safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to be, and when you expect to be there.
You can download a USPS float plan here: http://www.usps.org/o_stuff/fp_form.html.
USPS says the person holding your float plan should notify the Coast Guard or other appropriate agency if you do no not return within a reasonable time.
Life Jackets. Life Jackets. Life Jackets … Did We Mention Life Jackets?
There’s a lot involved in boating/water safety, especially for children, but a key factor is that everyone, especially children, use properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are on, in and around the water.
“The best tip I would have for parents of kids is to set the example for your kids and always wear a life jacket when boating,” Miller says. “Second suggestion would be to buy your child a life jacket that fits them and is appropriate for the activity they will be engaged in and most importantly one they will wear. Third, take your child to a pool or other swimming area and let them try out their life jacket to gain confidence that it will keep them afloat.”
Miller added the water in Alaska can be very cold and even on warm sunny days it will not take long for even the strongest swimmer to become unable to swim to shore, pull themselves back into the boat or help a buddy.
How do I choose a life jacket?
When choosing a life jacket:
- Make sure it is the right type for the activity.
- Make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Look for the stamp on the life jacket.
- Make sure it fits the intended user. Check the label on the life jacket for weight limits.
- Check buckles and straps for proper function. Discard any life jacket with torn fabric or loose straps.
- Put it on and practice swimming with it.
- Water wings, swim rings, inflatable toys and other items designed for water recreation are not substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or adult supervision.
Life Jackets Aren’t Just for Boats
Young children and weak swimmers should wear life jackets whenever they are in, on or around the water, even at a pool or a waterpark. Put it on at the dock, deck or shore and don’t take it off until you are on dry land.
Finally, this Kids Don’t Float Activity Book from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is a great way to get the kids excited for your boating trip while also teaching them to be safe around water.
May you have a safe and happy summer with your loved ones!
Lisa Miller is the Regional Communications Officer for the Red Cross of Alaska.