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Swimming Beyond Youth: Continued Learning and Sports Safety for Adults


Equip teens for aquatic safety. Learn key skills and gear essentials for safe water adventures.

As we continue our series "Lessons in Water Safety for All Ages", we come to a pivotal chapter dedicated to teenagers. Following our discussion on essential swim skills for children, we turn our attention to the unique challenges teens face in varied aquatic environments. The transition from the controlled environment of a swimming pool to the unpredictability of natural water bodies marks a significant step in a young person's development, both in terms of skill and personal responsibility.

Building Skills and Confidence for New Challenges

Skills Assessment and Mastery

Teens should have a solid foundation in basic swimming techniques before venturing into more challenging environments. A thorough skills assessment can identify areas for improvement and ensure that teens have the mastery necessary for more advanced swimming situations. Proper breath control, efficient stroke techniques, and strong endurance are critical components that should be evaluated and confirmed by a qualified instructor.

Adapting to Natural Waters

Moving from a pool to an open water setting like a lake, river, or ocean requires not only physical adjustments but also mental preparation. Understanding how to adjust strokes for waves or currents, and knowing how to respond to unexpected situations like weeds or wildlife, are essential lessons. Advanced swimming classes or a basic lifeguarding course can be invaluable, providing both practical skills and increasing a teen's water safety knowledge, including first aid and CPR.

Understanding Risks and Peer Pressure

The Realities of Risk-Taking

Teens often feel invincible, a mindset that can lead to overestimation of their abilities and underestimation of aquatic dangers. Discussing the real risks of deep water, such as cold-induced cramps or currents, helps build respect for these environments. Education about the potential dangers of alcohol and substance use around water is also crucial, as they significantly impair judgment and swimming ability.

Handling Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can lead teens to engage in risky behavior around water. It's vital to empower teens with the confidence to say no to dangerous challenges and to recognize when a situation is unsafe. Discussions should include strategies for maintaining personal safety while still enjoying socializing in aquatic settings.

Varying Safety Protocols Across Different Water Environments

Saltwater Swimming

The ocean poses unique challenges, including tides, currents, and marine life encounters. Knowledge about rip currents and how to swim parallel to the shore to escape them is a lifesaver. Safety tips, like swimming in designated areas and staying within the sight of lifeguards, can prevent many of the common accidents in saltwater.

Freshwater Awareness

Lakes and rivers hold their own set of potential hazards, from underwater currents to debris. It’s essential for teens to understand these risks and learn about freshwater safety, like the importance of wearing life vests when boating and how to deal with emergencies like foot entrapment.

Essential Safety Equipment and How to Use It

Essential Safety Equipment and How to Use It

When it comes to aquatic safety for teens, the right equipment is not just an accessory—it's a necessity. Understanding and using safety equipment effectively can make the difference between a close call and a calamity.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Life jackets or Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are the foremost safety requirement for any water activity, especially in open water.

  • Types of PFDs: Introduce teens to the five types of PFDs—Type I for rough, open, or remote water where rescue may be slow to arrive; Type II for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue; Type III for supervised activities such as water skiing or kayaking; Type IV for throwable devices in emergencies; and Type V for specific activities like whitewater rafting.
  • Fitting a Life Jacket: A guide on how to properly fit a life jacket is crucial. Emphasize that it should always be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, suitable for the wearer's weight and the water activity, and that it should fit snugly yet comfortably without restricting breathing or movement.
  • Maintenance and Care: Teach teens the importance of regular maintenance checks for wear and tear, ensuring all straps and clips are intact and functioning, and proper storage away from direct sunlight to prolong the life of the PFD.


In certain water sports like white-water rafting or kayaking, helmets are a critical piece of safety equipment.

  • Choosing the Right Helmet: The helmet should be specifically designed for water sports, providing both impact protection and minimal water retention.
  • Fit and Adjustment: A helmet must fit well—tight enough to stay put without shifting, but not so tight as to cause discomfort. It should sit level on the head and cover the forehead.

Protective Clothing

The right clothing can protect against hypothermia, sunburn, and injuries.

  • Wetsuits and Drysuits: Teach the difference between wetsuits, which provide warmth by trapping a thin layer of water against the skin that heats up, and drysuits, which keep you completely dry and are better for cold water.
  • Rash Guards and Sun-protective Clothing: Rash guards can protect the skin from sunburns and irritations caused by friction with surfboards or other equipment. Sun-protective clothing should have a UPF rating, which indicates the level of UV protection provided by the fabric.

Water Shoes

Foot protection is often overlooked, but in natural water settings, sharp rocks, broken glass, or even certain marine life can pose a threat.

  • Types of Water Shoes: There are shoes designed for different activities—from beachcombing to snorkeling to paddle sports. Features to look for include quick-dry material, a closed toe for protection, and a sturdy sole.
  • Proper Use: Always try them on with any wetsuit socks or foot coverings that will be worn in the water to ensure a good fit. Teach teens how to secure them properly to avoid losing them in the water.

Sunscreen and Hydration Gear

Protection from the sun and staying hydrated are critical.

  • Choosing Sunscreen: A water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is a must. Apply it 30 minutes before going out and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Hydration Packs and Water Bottles: For long activities, a hydration pack may be more practical than water bottles. It allows for hands-free carrying and easy access to water, which can encourage regular sipping.

Emergency Whistles and Communication Devices

In case of an emergency, being heard is just as important as being seen.

  • Whistles: A loud, pea-less whistle can be a lifesaver in situations where you need to attract attention. Make sure it’s attached to the PFD for easy access.
  • Waterproof Communication Devices: Whether it’s a waterproof case for a cell phone or a two-way radio designed for water use, having a means to communicate can ensure help is reachable if necessary.

First Aid Kits

A basic first-aid kit should include waterproof bandages, antiseptic wipes, and blister treatment, at a minimum. It's also smart to pack motion sickness medication for ocean trips, and allergy medication for those prone to reactions.

By understanding how to choose, use, and maintain this essential safety equipment, teens can confidently and safely enjoy a multitude of water-based activities.

Fostering Environmental Awareness and Stewardship

Impact on Aquatic Ecosystems

Teens can play an active role in protecting the environments they enjoy. Highlighting responsible behaviors, such as not disturbing wildlife and adhering to “carry in, carry out” policies, encourages conservation-minded thinking.

Engaging in Conservation Efforts

There are numerous opportunities for teens to get involved in environmental stewardship, from participating in beach clean-ups to joining water quality monitoring projects. Providing a glossary of relevant terms like "ecosystem," "biodiversity," and "conservation" can help teens better understand the discussions around these activities.

The knowledge and skills gained in diverse aquatic environments are not only for personal safety but also for the protection of our animals and natural resources. Teens have the power to influence their peers, promoting a culture of respect and responsibility toward water safety.

This article, along with our previous discussion on teaching essential swim skills to children, serves as a foundation for building a community aware of the importance of water safety at every age and stage of life. Stay tuned as we continue this valuable series, and remember, the skills and awareness you develop now will be a ripple effect of safety and enjoyment that extends far beyond the poolside. Whether swimming for leisure, exercise, or in competition, adults can set an example for the younger generations, embodying the principles of prudence, respect for water, and a commitment to lifelong learning. We will explore these themes and more in our next piece, where we'll focus on how adults can maintain and enhance their swimming skills, participate safely in water sports, and navigate the considerations of swimming as a parent. Join us as we further our journey into understanding how water safety is not just a skill, but a continuous and shared responsibility!