Over 80% of the Australian population lives within the coastal zone, and a majority of this crowd enjoys swimming, surfing, jet-skiing and other water sports. Fun as these activities may be, they are associated with grave risks of drowning, especially for children. On average, 30 children drown in Australia annually. And nearly 10 of them are infants below the age of 4. So, if you go into the water with kids, life jackets, foam cores and other personal flotation devices are necessary, along with strict supervision.
Keep the following safety tips in mind to enjoy your day out on the beach with minimal risk:
The Australian government, as well as each regional government, have guidelines on life-jacket manufacture and use. Check with your local authority regarding the safety standards that need to be met while buying a jacket. In general, however, the following tips should help you pick an appropriate jacket for your child.
How to choose and fit a life jacket on a child?
Many parents tend to buy jackets that are a bit too big for their children, reasoning that they will eventually grow into it. However, this is dangerous. The life jacket should neither be too small (i.e., when you can’t buckle the jacket, or when it suffocates the child) nor too big (i.e., when the jacket rides up over the child’s head or comes off too easily without having to unbuckle). Make sure it fits snugly, and all zippers and buckles can be fastened firmly.
Adjust the straps for a better fit, and tuck the ends of the straps away, so they do not snag onto sharp objects.
Test of fit: gently pick up your child by the life jacket, and ensure that the life jacket does not come off or does not budge up to the child’s ears.
If your child weighs below 15kg, then you must buy an infant life jacket. These can be attached to an adult and have additional support at the base of the neck because infants tend to fall face down. A flap also supports the child from beneath, which prevents the jacket from riding above the infant’s head.
What to look for in the jacket material?
Top manufacturers of kids life jackets ensure the following safety features:
- Top-quality jackets use feather-weight PVC foam to ensure as little additional weight on the child as possible. It is extra soft, making the jacket comfortable to wear for extended periods.
- Check if the manufacturer has incorporated a dual-layer fabric for extra strength. You don’t want a life-preserving device to give way under duress.
- Life jackets tend to restrict movement if they are not well made. Look for segmented panels that provide extra mobility.
- The more you can customise your jacket, the better it will fit on the wearer. The best jackets come with an expander panel at the back for maximum adjustment.
- Since you will be in a presumably crowded area with many children wearing life jackets, it helps if you can get one that allows you to quickly identify your child. Some manufacturers offer a wide range of colours and patterns that make them unique.
- Ultimately, the size of the jacket matters a lot – look for manufacturers that provide you with a wide range of sizes from Infant, Child, to Youth.
Keep a constant vigil –many parents are unfortunately distracted by chores, socialising and miscommunication when a drowning incident occurs.
Don’t entrust young children under the supervision of their elder siblings. It is your responsibility to ensure your children are all under your care the entire duration they are in the water.
If you have a toddler, never let the child go beyond an arm’s length from you.
Learn to recognise the signs of drowning. It is a misconception that people flail their arms about and scream out for help while drowning. In reality, drowning occurs quickly and silently. A toddler can drown within 20 seconds in water that’s barely a few centimetres deep.
You can also learn to perform CPR so that you are prepared in case of an emergency.
Listen to the weather advisory. Do not underestimate the strength of currents or overestimate your child’s swimming abilities.
Water sports are a fun, energising way to spend time with children. Keeping in mind the risks involved and taking adequate precautions can make the entire event an incredible, unforgettable experience.