Melanie McQueen and Jean Skinner teach swim lessons to a group of children June 26, 2023, at Patton Pool on Fort Cavazos. Starting swim lessons early is key as young swimmers with the proper training and guidance become more proficient swimmers in adulthood. (U.S. Army photo by Janecze Wright, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
Melanie McQueen and Jean Skinner teach swim lessons to a group of children June 26, 2023, at Patton Pool on Fort Cavazos. Starting swim lessons early is key as young swimmers with the proper training and guidance become more proficient swimmers in adulthood. (U.S. Army photo by Janecze Wright, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — Summer is in full swing, and temperatures are soaring into the triple digits here. For many, there is no better way to beat the scorching heat than to go swimming.

Pools, beaches and lakes offer hours of fun and relief from the high temperatures, but there is much more to safely enjoying one of summer’s most popular activities.

The Fort Cavazos Aquatics department of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation offers ways to become more knowledgeable about water safety and learn the skills to swim proficiently.

Mere seconds is how long it takes for a fun time in the water to turn into a life-threatening emergency, according to the American Red Cross. A child or weak swimmer can drown in less time than it takes to snap a selfie, reply to a text or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools, at the beach and in bathtubs.

Practicing water safety is a way to decrease the likelihood of serious injury or worse.

“Safety is our number one priority as lifeguards,” said Savannah Streeter, a lifeguard with DFMWR. “We want our job to be more prevention than action. Because if we are able to prevent accidents, we don’t have to worry about performing emergency saves as often.”

In addition to basic water safety guidelines such as walking and not running around the pool, entering the water feet first and knowing the body of water you’re in, Streeter said that being attentive is the most important rule to remember.

“Parents need to pay attention to their kids. Kids need to pay attention to their surroundings because if you’re not paying attention, you don’t know what could happen,” she explained. “If a kid is not paying attention when they’re walking, they could fall in the pool, that could lead to an emergency situation. A parent is not paying attention to their child, they could start drowning, that could lead to an emergency situation.

“So, definitely being aware of your surroundings, I feel,” Streeter continued, “is one of the most important things when it comes to water safety, because you need to be aware of what’s going on around you in order to make sure you can stay safe in those situations.”

Jean Skinner, a DFMWR lifeguard, said that knowing your strengths and weaknesses is also key to ensuring a safe water experience.

A lifeguard guides young swimmers as they doggy paddle along the edge of the pool during swim lessons June 26, 2023, at Patton Pool on Fort Cavazos. (U.S. Army photo by Janecze Wright, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
A lifeguard guides young swimmers as they doggy paddle along the edge of the pool during swim lessons June 26, 2023, at Patton Pool on Fort Cavazos. (U.S. Army photo by Janecze Wright, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

“A lot of people are overly confident in themselves, so self-awareness, I feel, is really important for people,” Skinner said.

According to the ARC, Skinner is not wrong. Most people assume they can swim, but the reality is people often overestimate their ability to swim proficiently. A survey, conducted for the ARC, found that while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.

These critical water safety skills, also known as “water competency,” are the ability to step or jump into the water over your head, return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute, turn around in a full circle and find an exit, swim 25 yards to the exit and exit from the water. If in a pool, swimmers must be able to exit without using the ladder.

Overall, the survey finds that 54 percent of Americans either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills.

Swim lessons allow people to develop basic swimming skills, good habits in or near water, be at ease in the water and become stronger, safer swimmers. And starting early is key as young swimmers with the proper training and guidance become more proficient swimmers in adulthood.

“A child or person should feel comfortable in the water,” reiterated Summer Inwood, DFMWR chief of Sports, Fitness and Aquatics. “That’s actually the first and foremost important rule with swim lessons.”

Inwood explained that while it’s the instructor’s responsibility to teach children and give them resources, it’s also on the parents to help.

“Just like in school, teachers teach, but it’s our responsibility as parents to help them with the homework or to do our part at home,” she explained. “With swim lessons, it’s really important for the parents to work with the instructors to figure out what the rules are, what are the skills that they’re learning and to really reinforce them when they’re out on their own.”