A Word of Caution About Dangerous Swimming Toys and Flotation Devices
Is there anything more inviting than a backyard pool, aquatic centre or beach, when you find yourself sweltering in the heat of an Australian summer?
Probably not. (Read on even if it’s not summer, because the same advice applies if your kids are swimming all year round – which we hope they are!)
If you don’t have a pool, there’s a good chance your child is constantly begging you to take them to the closest home with a waterhole (and it seems that any friend, relative or casual acquaintance will do). When swimming toys are lying around or come out of storage, you’re likely to see children racing each other on colourful foam noodles, which double as “water dragons”.
It’s easy to see why so many children look forward to being in the water, no matter the season. But their harmless splashing around can quickly take on a deadly tone, in cases where swimming toys and flotation devices create a dangerous environment.
Consumer protection experts, in 2017, warned Aussies not to float on air loungers in the water, after two people nearly drowned. Mother Anthea Chester told the Sydney Morning Herald that the fabric split and engulfed her daughter’s body, while she was in a backyard pool.
“She suddenly disappeared into the middle of it. She then emerged standing up, thank goodness, because the water was shoulder height and she was encased in the parachute material,” Ms Chester said.
That particular incident happened in the midst of a drowning epidemic that summer that claimed nearly as many lives as car fatalities. At least 15 people drowned in NSW alone during the 2016/2017 summer holidays – putting water safety back on the radar. In 2021/2022, that seems to be the case again.
Although swimming toys and flotation devices have their role to play in your child’s adventures, caution must be exercised at all times. Children under five face the greatest risk of drowning in backyard pools.
Swimming toys such as noodles, dive rings, floaties and beach balls can be dangerous if left in the pool, because children may try to grab these from the pool’s edge and fall in. We urge you to pack toys far away from the pool, check for any leakages and make sure they’re appropriate for your child’s weight and age. Don’t just focus on this in the warmer months. Toys lying around the edge of the pool can be just as attractive to kids in the colder months. Whilst a pool gate provides greater protection, some children have been known to use chairs to help them climb over the fence.
There are certain toys that should be avoided completely, such as mermaid tails, which experts have warned about after an American girl nearly drowned while wearing one.
These can be useful in recreational settings, especially if you have multiple children to supervise. But they can lure parents into a false sense of security, by giving the impression that a child can hold their own in deep water, even if this isn’t the case.
If you are helping your child to learn to swim whenever you are in the water, our advice is don’t overly rely on floaties. Floaties keep kids upright in the water but to be able to swim, a child needs to learn how to be horizontal in the water. They also need to learn how water can support their body (buoyancy). So don’t overuse floaties.
When choosing a floatie, make sure it fits well, which is based on weight, not age. You’re looking for a snug-fitting device that keeps your child’s head above the water and doesn’t restrict their arm movements too much.
Remember, floaties should never be relied upon as safety devices. Children should always be supervised and taught how to swim.