The #1 Thing You Need for Safe Swimming in a Pool or Open Water

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone — and summer is officially here! That means we're taking the covers off the pools and heading to the beach to swim and lie out under the sun. This is the time to relax and have fun, but it's important to remember how to stay safe too. About 10 people die from accidental drowning every day in the U.S. So Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones, who nearly drowned when he was just 5, is sharing the most important thing to have with you when swimming in a pool or open water.

Make Sure Someone Is Watching You

Cullen says the #1 rule when swimming is to have a water watcher — no matter how old you are, and even if you have already taken swim lessons. This is particularly important when you're in open water where there are currents, like at the beach.


"Even as an Olympic swimmer, it becomes harder because [humans] aren't built for the water. But that's why we have to have swim lessons. So the #1 rule, no matter if it's a pool, or if it's a lake, or if it's an ocean, make sure you have a lifeguard watching — someone who's certified to make sure you are safe around the water."

What the Water Watcher Does

This water watcher has their eyes on swimmers or people playing in, on or around the water at all times. They watch all children and adolescents, even if those people know how to swim. They should also stay within arm's reach of young children or inexperienced swimmers to offer help if needed, according to USA Swimming Foundation.

What Makes a Good Water Watcher

Here are some other important guidelines for the water watcher, according to Water Safety USA:

  • They are at least 16 years of age. Adults are preferred.
  • They have the skills and ability to recognize if someone needs help in the water and then rescue that person. Or, they can immediately alert someone nearby who can.
  • They know CPR or can immediately alert someone nearby who does.
  • They have a working phone and can call 9-1-1.
  • They have a floating object to use in a rescue if needed.
  • They are alert and not drinking alcohol or using drugs.
To see a step-by-step guide for helping someone struggling or drowning in the water, visit our Emergency Resources page here.

Learn to Swim

Cullen also stressed how important it is for everyone in the family to know how to swim. Taking swim lessons helps you keep yourself safe in the water, and they allow you to help others when you are a water watcher.

How Young to Start Swim Lessons

Cullen suggests taking lessons as young as 6 months old! While that may seem young, infants won't necessarily learn to actively swim so much as learn basic water survival skills. Young children are naturally curious about and attracted to water, so accidents like falling into a pool can happen at any time. Some things babies can learn include holding their breath underwater, starting from their face in the water and rolling onto their back, floating and remaining relaxed, and doing all this fully clothed.

But not everyone else starts that young. And that's ok! There are swimming classes geared toward people of all ages, from toddlers and older kids to teens and adults.

Don't Be Scared

And no matter your age, if you're having anxiety about learning to swim or being in the water, Cullen has some valuable advice for you.

"Water anxiety is a real thing. As someone who almost drowned at the age of 5, I have to thank my parents for doing the one thing that I'm gonna tell every parent and child about their anxiety: You can't quit," he said. "I went to five different teachers before I started feeling comfortable around the water. Especially for those who have had a negative experience, it's all about that first positive experience."

Cullen suggests talking to your instructor about your fears. Building that trust on land first can help you enter the water with confidence and know that your teacher will keep you safe.

"It's OK, take your time," Cullen said.

Find Swim Lessons Near Your

There are many ways to find low-cost or free swimming classes for all ages in your area. Here are two:

USA Swimming Foundation: This national organization can show you available classes and clubs around your ZIP code. Its online search tool provides you the name and information of the class provider, as well as contact information for someone you can talk to about the lessons.

Red Cross: Search on the Red Cross website by your area and the skills you want to learn to find classes. You can also learn who to perform CPR online or in-person, which is crucial when you're a water watcher.