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Water safety tips for the Ocean State

This week a 3-year-old boy drown in a neighbor’s pool in Woonsocket. We offer water safety tips and information to help keep your kids safe.

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Editor’s note: This week a three-year-old boy drown in a neighbor’s pool in Woonsocket. It reminds us at Kidoinfo.com just how important water safety is, so we are running this article (originally published in 2016) to provide water safety tips and information as we head into the Spring/Summer season.

Special Water Safety Learning Event

Pods Swimming is hosting a very special event with lots of fun and educational activities for your entire family to learn more about being safer in and around the water. Includes food, raffle prices, and water safety day activities: safer 3 water safety video; Life-jacket safety; Reach or throw, Don’t Go; Swim with a buddy; and more. All proceeds to the the Jayce the Healer Foundation, named for a young boy who drown. 2-5 pm, May 6, at Pods Swimming, 111 Commercial Way, East Providence. Free and open to the public. Plus, save the date for “A Day in the Park,” a water safety event on July 7 at Roger Williams Park. 

Water safety in the Ocean State

By Susan Gale

Drowning doesn’t sound or look like drowning. At least it doesn’t look like what many of us picture in our heads – a person yelling and bobbing up and down in the water. Drowning is largely silent and it happens quickly.

“Everyone always thinks it won’t happen to them,” said Karla Sherman of Cranston. “But drowning is silent, you can’t really see that it is happening.”

Sherman knows this all too well. Two years ago, her 18-month-old son Jayce accidently got into the family’s pool and drown. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 4.

Sherman was devastated and though she will never get over losing her son, she decided that she will do everything possible to make sure other parents don’t face the same horror. Her son’s name means “healer” in Greek so Sherman started the non-profit Jayce “the Healer” Foundation.

On September 4 from noon-5 pm at Slater Park in Pawtucket, Sherman’s foundation will hold its third annual “A Day in the Park.” (See above for details.) Today, Sherman’s two-year-old twins, Kailah and Kaleb Sherman-Chattelle are in swim lessons.

“Supervision is the number one way to keep children safe,” said Sherman. “You don’t want to introduce them to water until they know how to self-rescue or swim.”


Water safety tips

  • Be vigilant: Always have an adult watching children in water at all times.
  • Install barriers: Have a four-to-five-foot-high fence around pools. Use door alarms and self-latching and locking gates. When not in use, cover and lock spas and hot tubs.
  • Teach swimming and lifesaving skills: Take swimming classes and learn CPR. Children should know how to swim, float, tread water, and get in and out of water safely.
  • Avoid dangerous drains: Fix all loose, missing, or broken drain covers. Tie up long hair or use a swim cap and warn children to stay away from drains or other openings.


What kids need to know about water

It’s all about breath control and body position when it comes to children being able to save themselves if they fall into water unattended, said Susan Pascale-Frechette, owner of PODS Swimming. The Jayce the Healer Foundation plans to give out $7,000 in scholarships for swimming lessons with PODS.

Pascale-Frechette’s method of teaching swimming starts with children as young as six months. Infants and toddlers are first taught to become comfortable swimming underwater to lessen the possibility of panic in an emergency. Children then learn to swim forward, roll on their backs and float, and then roll back on their stomachs to swim forward again.

“Some people think their children are swimming but they have never gone under water, never learned how to blow bubbles, how to breath,” Pascale-Frechette said. “There is all kinds of information for new parents but no one talks about getting enrolled in swimming classes.”

Pascale-Frechette is not a fan of air-filled swimming aids such as floaties or water wings because she said they put children into a vertical position and limit the child’s ability to learn how to keep his/her feet behind him/her in the water. And if the child falls in water unattended, they won’t have the benefit of floaties.

“Swimming is a must, a rite of passage; it’s not an option,” she said. “Learning to swim should be like going to school.”

Her advice to parents: be consistent and persistent when it comes to learning swimming. Her own son cried every time he entered the water for two years.

“Even though he screamed and cried it became muscle memory and he could do it,” she said. “Today parents just want their children happy but they have to push through.”

Even if they are taught swimming and water safety, young children need to be watched constantly around water, said Pascale-Frechette, noting that she saved her son twice in the water. “You always have to have a watchful eye,” she said.

Boating and water safety

Jennifer Ogren, an Environmental Police Officer with the RI Division of Environmental Management, has seen her fair share of terrible collisions and other accidents on the water. She said it happens with every type of water vehicle – from large boats to paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. She likens a life jacket to a car seatbelt or car seat for a child.

“You don’t put your seatbelt on prior to an accident. People have no time when something happens.” she said, noting that all life jackets should be Coast Guard approved. “It’s just like a car seat. You wouldn’t buy just any car seat. It can be worth it to spend more to get a better fit. Life jackets need to be properly fitted. Don’t buy for them to grow into.”

Part of the problem with not wearing a life jacket is called cold shock response, she said. When a person falls into cold water, the immediate shock of the cold causes an involuntary inhalation, which, if underwater, can result in drowning.

“A life jacket can bring you to the surface,” she said, noting that she has met boaters whose life jackets were still wrapped in their original plastic, making them useless if an accident happens. Ogren said that people not wearing a life jacket make up 84% of boating fatalities from drowning. And nowadays there are different types of life jackets including some that lay flat on the person and inflate in the water or by pulling a handle.

“I don’t want to take the fun out of it, but it is an activity that has some risks,” she said.


How to check the fit of your child’s life jacket

On a boat in RI, life jackets must be worn by all children 13 and under. Make sure the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved and fits tight to the chest. Secure the crotch strap so it isn’t hanging loose to catch on something. To test the fit of your child’s life jacket:

  • Once the jacket is on your child, stand behind them and strongly pull up on the jacket.
  • It is fitted properly if the jacket cannot be pulled over your child’s mouth.
  • If it is going over their mouth, it isn’t tight enough or is not the right size


Susan Gale is Publisher of Kidoinfo.com