Sunny afternoons in the water are among many people's fondest childhood memories. Most likely, you don't give much thought to the fact that accidents happen time and again: Around 50 people drown in Switzerland every year, including three children up to the age of nine. According to the Swiss Competence Center for Accident Prevention (cap), drowning is the second most frequent cause of accidental death among children, with only road accidents causing more deaths. The cap estimates that for every fatal water-related accident, there is another that causes lasting damage.
A silent death
The thing that makes water so dangerous is that children drown silently. If they have exhausted all their strength, then they simply sink – without screaming or waving their arms. Small children in particular are at risk of falling into a state of shock as soon as their heads go under. Depending on the situation, even just 30 seconds underwater can have serious consequences. Marc Bächler, head of the cap media office, has the following advice: "You should always stay within easy reach of small children, i.e. not more than two meters away." The key thing is to pay attention: Anyone who chats on their mobile phone or writes emails is blind and deaf to a possible emergency situation involving the child.
Always stay within easy reach of small children.
Once rescued, a child who has been underwater involuntarily for more than a few seconds should be placed on their side and given artificial respiration if necessary. The important thing is to keep a sharp eye on the child over the following 24 hours, because in certain cases children can suffer from "dry drowning", when water has accumulated in the lungs and blocks the airways hours later.
Simulation of risk situations
It's not only important to pay attention to very small children, but also to children of nursery and elementary school age. It can be dangerous for them if they overestimate their strength or start to panic. This applies particularly in open and flowing waters, but even in swimming pools. At this age, competence in water is the best protection, according to Marc Bächler: "It's therefore worthwhile ensuring your child learns to swim." Good swimming schools are certified with the "aquality.ch" seal of quality. Other than this, the cap recommends that children take the water safety check before they turn nine. This involves children recreating a dangerous situation: They have to roll into the water, tread water for one minute and then swim 50 meters. Children who can manage this can probably then save themselves if they get thrown into deep water in a swimming pool or fall from a jetty into a lake.
Four out of five victims of drowning are male.
Alcohol and bravado – a recipe for trouble
The majority of victims of drowning are adolescent or adult swimmers who drown in rivers or lakes. They run into problems because of cold water or currents. They overestimate how far they can actually swim or eventually become exhausted. This happens primarily when they are hypoglycaemic or have drunk alcohol. A good rule of thumb here is: Anyone who goes away from the shore should take a swim aid or a companion into the water. Incidentally, the most important risk factor at all age levels is gender: men and boys are clearly more willing to take risks. According to a cap study, four out of five victims of drowning are male.
Safe by the sea
Even those who are already able to swim should take stock once again when holidaying by the sea or a lake. The water is often murky, you might encounter animals or plants when swimming and the surface of the water is much greater than in a swimming pool. Marc Bächler has some advice here: "Accompany your child into the water and make sure he or she knows the most important rules." These include, among others: Never jump into the water if you don't know how deep it is. Stay close to the shore and within calling distance. Stay away from currents that drag you away from the shore. What children also need to know: Looking for shells in the wet sand at low tide is a lot of fun, but anyone who strays too far out can get a nasty surprise when the tide comes in.
When a unicorn sinks
Air mattresses, inflatable unicorns and rubber rings bring added fun to the water. However, they should always have two separate air chambers to prevent them from sinking immediately when they are punctured – taking the child with them. It's important to note that the inflatables are not a substitute for swimming skills, and the same goes for inflatable water wings. Here it can get dangerous if a non-swimmer removes the water wings unnoticed and then still gets back into the water. In any case, these swim aids should not be used for too long, as they prevent the child from learning the correct swimming position: Instead of lying horizontally in the water, he or she hangs downwards like a pillar.
Water is a wonderful element. Nobody should be afraid of it, but a healthy respect among children and adults is important so that dangerous situations can be avoided effectively.
Marc Bächler, cap media spokesperson
Children in the water
For children, treatment costs for water-related accidents are covered by the accident coverage of health insurance companies. Long-term consequences, such as disability, can be privately insured, for instance with Zurich's Junior children's insurance.