by Eileen Ogintz of travelagentcentral.com
The pool is packed. Everyone is having fun, but who is watching the kids?
You should be no farther than an arm’s length away, says B.J. Fisher, the health and safety director for the American Lifeguard Association, which trains lifeguards around the world.
It’s easy — far too easy — to lose track of kids in a crowded pool, especially on a big cruise ship. Drownings, Fisher said, happen silently in a matter of seconds and, according to federal research, remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for kids under 14. Nearly 700 children, 14 and younger, drowned in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2015, and for every child who dies from drowning another five receive ER care. More than half require further care and some are left with severe brain damage and lifelong disabilities.
Knowing how to swim does not protect anyone from drowning, the American Red Cross notes.
Spring break is one of the most popular times of the year for family vacations, especially on cruise ships, which may have as many as 1,000 kids on board. Those who traveled with children are more likely to have taken a cruise vacation and are more interested in taking a cruise vacation during the next 12 months than travelers without kids, according to research presented by Steve Cohen, MMGY vice president, research and insights, at the TMS Family Travel conference I co-chair.
Fisher, like many of us, was glad to hear that Royal Caribbean International now is introducing a water safety program fleet wide in the next four months with lifeguards, Coast Guard-approved life jackets, water safety signage and what I believe is a first — water safety programming in its organized Adventure Ocean kids and teens program. The goal is “to raise awareness amongst our guests about the importance of vigilance while enjoying water features on our ships,” the company statement said. At the moment, however, there won’t be lifeguards at the cruise line’s private Caribbean island.
Last summer, an 8-year-old boy drowned on a Royal Caribbean ship as it was sailing out of New York. Disney added life guards and life jackets aboard its ships and at family and adult beaches at their Castaway Cay private island. Earlier that year, a near drowning aboard a Disney ship left a 4-year-old permanently disabled.
But there is no industry-wide standard nor are lifeguards the norm on board ship.
Other lines have implemented individual water safety measures — children’s life jackets aboard Carnival Cruise Lines‘ ships, for example.
Norwegian Cruise Line stations crewmembers trained in water rescue and lifesaving procedures to monitor the family pools on the line’s largest ships with Aqua Parks and water play areas, but they are not lifeguards, said Norwegian spokesman Vanessa Picariello. Norwegian does have lifeguards at Great Stirrup Cay, its private island in the Bahamas and Harvest Caye in southern Belize.