Ask an Expert: How do I know if my kids are ready to swim in the ocean?

A father and son at the beach.
  1. Q. I’m really excited for our family vacation to the beach this summer. I have two teenagers – a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. Both are good, safe swimmers, who I trust in our backyard pool. Does that mean they should be fine in the ocean as well?

It’s great your kids are confident swimmers at home. While that experience is a good start at the ocean (or in other places like lakes), there are some important differences that you and your kids will want to talk about before everyone hits the beach.

First, be aware of “hidden hazards” like uneven surfaces, rip currents and undertows. These hazards can make swimming or playing in open water dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Talk about these situations with you kids. What is a rip current and what do you do if you’re caught in one? (Here’s a great video from the National Ocean Service that will answer these questions.) Is it OK to dive headfirst off a boat or pier? (It’s unsafe to dive head first if you are unsure of the depth and you can’t see the bottom. When entering unfamiliar water, it’s always best to enter feet first and swim in slowly.) Overall, the best thing to do is encourage your kids to ease into the water before heading out too deep and to be extra aware of their surroundings. Many beaches have designated swimming areas, which are a great place to start.  

Second, swim with a partner. Something we should all do whenever we swim but it’s worth reinforcing for swimmers with confidence. As I mentioned, open water is a different animal than the backyard pool, and requires a healthy respect. So, when kids are in open water, make sure they agree to swim with a partner every time. It’s a good rule for when they’re just hanging out or playing in the surf as well.

Finally, consider life jackets. I know your kids are strong swimmers and while they might not choose to wear a life jacket when they’re in the water, they should definitely wear one when they’re doing other water activities like boating, jet skiing or kayaking. For parents with younger kids or less experienced swimmers, it’s a little different story. Beach time is the perfect time to fit your kids with a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (remember, things like water wings or noodles are fun toys but should not be used for safety). Here’s a quick video on how to get the right fit. Life jackets are a quick, easy way to help your kids stay safe and to help you worry less so the whole family can have fun. And isn’t that what a vacation at the beach is all about?

Meet Our Expert

Ask the Expert - Ali FluryAli is the sports safety program manager for Safe Kids with extensive experience in planning, implementing and evaluating programs across the United States.

See the rest of our experts and Safe Kids staff on our Team Page.

Do you have questions about the best way to keep your kids safe? Our “Ask an Expert” column is the place to get answers directly from experienced professionals, who have dedicated their lives to educating parents and protecting kids. If you have a question about safety at home, on the road, or during sports and play, please email Gary Karton