Bathing, swimming, splashing - on hot summer days, many people are looking for refreshment in the cool water. There are a number of dangers lurking in particular for the inexperienced, but these can easily be minimized with a few rules.
On average, almost 500 people drown in Germany every year. 60 percent of swimming accidents occur in the summer months of June, July, and August.
The fact that not only inexperienced people can be affected was recently observed at the swimming world championships in Budapest: Immediately after her individual exercise, the US synchronized swimmer Anita Alvarez lost consciousness and sank to the bottom of the pool. She probably only survived because her trainer immediately grasped the situation and reacted.
How likely is it to drown anyway?
In fact, the presence of lifeguards appears to be an essential factor in preventing a fatal swimming accident. According to statistics from the German Life Saving Society (DLRG), in 2020 and 2021 only 0.2 percent of those who drowned died in swimming pools and 0.6 percent in the sea, where thousands of lifeguards guard the beaches in summer. "The majority of fatal accidents here occur away from the guarded beaches or outside the lifeguards' working hours," says a press release from the DLRG.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death - and the most common for young children. According to WHO estimates, 236,000 people drown worldwide every year - children, men, and "people with increased access to water" are particularly affected. In the United States, for example, where an average of 11 people drown every day, almost 80 percent of those drowned are men, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. It's similar in Germany. One possible reason: is an increased willingness to take risks and alcohol consumption.
What dangers lurk in the water?
However, given the billions of people bathing each year, the risk is manageable. The vast majority of accidents are due to carelessness or carelessness. Anyone who overestimates their own ability or strength or underestimates the dangers easily takes a high risk. On the other hand, if you follow a few simple rules, you can enjoy the cool refreshment carefreely.
However, drowning is not the only thing that can happen. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only about one in three swimming accidents involving a sink is fatal. But mechanical injuries can also occur - for example, if you slip on the slippery edge of the pool or jump into unfamiliar waters. If the water is too shallow or there are obstacles underwater, this can lead to the most serious injuries, especially when diving headfirst: According to the German Society for Orthopedics and Trauma Surgery (DGOU), around 65 people suffer paraplegia every year because they injured their spine in a swimming accident.
Although swimming in itself is considered to be extremely healthy for muscles and circulation, long-term problems can also arise. "Swimmer's shoulder" is an inflammation in the shoulder area, which usually occurs as a result of incorrect or excessive strain.
5 tips on how to prevent injuries and accidents in the water
1. Don't just jump in!
This applies in particular to unfamiliar bodies of water, but also to swimming pools and designated bathing lakes. Because - even if it sounds silly in midsummer temperatures - a few warm-ups and stretching exercises before and after swimming help to prepare the muscles for the upcoming exertion. This prevents cramps and strains. You should also cool down a little beforehand in order to prepare the circulation for the temperature change.
2. Eat and drink enough!
Also important: the body loses a lot of fluid in the heat. That's why you should drink plenty of fluids in summer anyway - without alcohol. This prevents both cramps and circulatory weaknesses, which can be fatal in the water. If you swallow seawater, you should drink more freshwater afterwards. The high salt content deprives the body of fluid. You should also have eaten something so that you don't run out of blood sugar in between. A full stomach, on the other hand, is more uncomfortable than dangerous.
3. ALWAYS supervise children!
Children, especially very young ones, must be supervised at all times. As long as they are in the water or have access to water, they are in danger. Up to about 1.5 years of age, they can literally drown face down in a puddle. Even older children can slip unnoticed into a swimming pool or a garden pond and drown there without making a sound. Even if they survive such an accident, the temporary lack of oxygen can cause permanent brain damage. Certified swimming aids - such as upper arm swimming wings with several air chambers - significantly increase safety.
4. Learn to swim properly!
Children can learn to swim from the age of about five. Seven is considered a good age for the bronze badge, formerly "Freischwimmer". To do this, they have to swim for at least 15 minutes at a time and cover at least 200 meters. Even as an adult, it is still worth learning a clean swimming technique. It reduces exhaustion and helps you stay afloat even in unexpected currents or high waves.
5. Only enter the water at designated spots!
Again and again, people have accidents in waters that are unsuitable for swimming. In Germany, 75 percent of those who drowned in rivers and lakes died in 2020 and 2021. People drown even in rivers where they could stand because a strong current swept them away. Aquatic plants in lakes and cables in quarry ponds can wrap themselves around their legs and cause deadly panic.
The ten most important bathing rules of the DLRG can be found here in more than 20 languages.