While water safety is important year-round, winter water safety introduces special considerations. This is especially true for families in northern areas, where snow and ice present seasonal dangers. In southern regions such as Florida, swimmers may not be deterred by the non-freezing climate and water temperatures. These individuals should ensure safety and warmth when swimming or participating in water sports during the winter months.
Cold Water Safety
Winter swimmers should particularly note the importance of staying warm. Swimmers should dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air. Swimmers should exit the water to warm up when cold temperatures begin to cause numbness, discomfort, or signs of bodily distress. Immersion in cold water can cause a specific set of dangers that may increase the risk of drowning.
Cold water drowning is often associated with three main stages:
- Cold shock, which may cause involuntary gasping. Swimmers may be more likely to faint, hyperventilate, or drown before being able to calm their breathing.
- Swimming failure. The longer an individual is immersed in cold water, the more likely he or she is to lose the ability to move the extremities. This can result in drowning or a dangerous drop in body temperature.
- Hypothermia, or the condition resulting from a core body temperature drop that exceeds the required temperature for bodily functions and metabolism. If the body temperature is not quickly restored, the individual may experience confusion, cardiac arrest, unconsciousness, and eventually death.
- Post-rescue collapse, during which the individual experiences sudden fainting or unconsciousness after being removed from the water. Post-rescue collapse may result in death due to an abrupt failure of bodily systems.
Winter Hot Tub Safety
During the winter months, many individuals enjoy occasional use of a hot tub. Adults should avoid the use of alcohol or drugs in the hot tub. The high temperatures may amplify the speed and effects of these substances. These substances may also cause drowsiness, which presents the danger of drowning. Additionally, sleeping decreases the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. This can result in dangerous overheating.
Hot Tub Water Temperature
Children should be introduced slowly to allow their bodies time to adjust to the temperature. When children are using the hot tub, the water temperature should not exceed that of a warm bath. This is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot temperatures can result in scalding and burning, which may require medical treatment. When children are not present, adults are recommended to maintain the temperature below 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Individuals are recommended to purchase a floating thermometer if the hot tub is not equipped with a digital thermometer.
Keep Pools Maintained
Even if it is too cold to swim, families should maintain pools and hot tubs throughout the year. Maintaining pools helps to keep the water clear. In the event that a child or other individual accidentally falls into the pool, clear water will help improve visibility. In turn, the individual may be helped faster. Additionally, pool covers should be consistently cleared of debris and drained of rain water which may accumulate on the surface.