Camping & Kids Who Can’t Swim: Stay Safe, Have Fun & Develop

This article is aimed at families who are going camping with kids that cannot swim. Firstly there is a comprehensive guide to teaching your child the basics of swimming, should you plan to teach them. We then cover safe temperatures and outdoor swimming as well as how to keep your child safe throughout your trip. Whether there’s a chance they’ll be able to swim in the near future or not at all.

What are the basic skills of swimming?

First and foremost, the most important thing you need to teach your child about swimming is being comfortable in the water. Water comfort is the most basic yet most essential aspect of learning to swim. Although we are born feeling comfortable and adaptable to water, bad experiences can lead to the development of fear. This could be caused by anything from a bath being too cold as a baby, to falling into a body of water whilst not being able to swim.

Not being comfortable with water can lead to panic and panicking can lead to drowning. This is why it is paramount that your child is comfortable with the water before they begin learning how to swim. The good news is that simply having positive experiences in the water will relieve these anxieties and it can actually happen quite fast.

Teaching them to control their breathing is the next step in learning to swim whilst staying relaxed. It’s inevitable that your child will get unwanted water in their nose and mouth. They may also struggle when it is time to hold their breath and become submerged in the water. Some simple breathing techniques can help keep them composed and confident.

Once your child is comfortable with the water, have them stand firmly on the bottom with a good grasp of the edge of the lake or pool. If your child is too small to reach the bottom then you will need to hold them. Make sure they are wearing a life jacket. Next, have them draw a deep breath before submerging their face. Once they are comfortable in doing this for a few moments, have them stay a little longer and begin to blow bubbles in the water as they exhale. As your child begins to feel braver, you can even get them to go down a little lower each time. Be careful, however, we don’t want to rush and do anything that will break their confidence.

Now confidence is at a high, it’s time to let them in on a little secret. Humans are naturally buoyant! This means that it is much easier for them to float than someone who can’t swim, or is a little apprehensive around the water, may realize.
Make sure the child is in still water, we don’t want them to float downstream, become fearful and ruin all their hard work! Whilst still holding on to the side, have them begin to lift their legs whilst their head is submerged. Again, as their confidence grows, increasing time and elevation.

They can also turn with their back to the side of the pool or lake and hold on overhand, allowing them to float on their back. Be sure to warn them that, although their face is not submerging, there is now more of a chance that they will get water down their nose and throat. Assure them that if this happens it is ok and not to panic. Have them re-right themselves calmly and have a good cough should they require.

Having completed the steps thus far, your child should now be ready to attempt floating on their front and back without holding on to the side. Be sure that they do this in an area where they can comfortably put their feet down should they need to. If not, you need to be ready to hold them, if necessary, and they should be wearing a life jacket.  Once this is complete they’re ready to start swimming.

From here, we can begin to teach them about kicking and strokes. Treading water is an essential skill in swimming and can be a good place to start. Now they can float on their front, have them lift their head out of the water, begin to move their arms in a circular motion and kick their legs. They may need to go a little deeper for this but still don’t need to be out of their depth. They may start with one kick then two and so on. They’re doing great at this point so no need to rush.

Understanding propulsion through kicking can also be learned at this stage. To begin with, some children can find this easier than treading water. The best way to do this is through the use of a floatation device such as a kickboard. This supports the torso so your child can concentrate on kicking without worrying about staying afloat.

Once they feel comfortable with the kickboard and have given treading water a go, its time to begin using strokes. By far, the easiest stroke to learn first is the breaststroke. However, if they feel comfortable, are staying afloat and have begun to propel themselves then that is the main thing.

By now we hope to have taken your child from a complete novice to comfortable in the water and being able to swim if only a little. Keep their experiences safe, fun and positive and they will learn how to swim whilst on your camping trip.

How long does it take to learn how to swim?

Ever hear the phrase, “It’s as long as a piece of string?” When it comes to questions on how long it takes a child to learn how to swim, you’ll get a different answer depending on whom you ask, how they learned or whom they taught.

It has been said that it can take people weeks, months or even multiple years to get over their fear of water. Then only a couple of hours to learn to swim! Others would say around 6 to 8 hours is a good ballpark figure. They may also tell you about how capable of a teacher they are. Others may say it depends on age, where a 10 to 12 years old may pick it up in 2 to 3 months, a toddler may take 8 to 10 months.

What we would say is, do something. By this we mean the more you do with them, the quicker your child will learn. If they have a fear of the water, make sure they experience being in and around the water, in a safe environment, as much as possible. Be sure to make certain that their experiences are positive and they will soon come around. Then you can begin to concentrate on the actual swimming part.

Maybe your child is fearless and wants to jump straight in and learn. This enthusiasm is great, and they will most likely learn to swim a little faster than the first child, but they also need to learn safety and respect for the water. A negative experience caused by an over-enthusiastic child and a little carelessness from the parent can be detrimental. The child could actually end up with a fear of water and be further behind than the first child.

These are extreme cases and most children will be somewhere in between. Just remember to keep it safe but also make it fun. Positive experiences are key to development and confidence is king. A camping holiday with a child who cannot swim can be a perfect opportunity to learn. If you have access to a pool or lake for a duration of a few days then this could be ample time for your child to learn in one go.

Can anyone learn to swim?

Unless you or your child have been specifically informed by your doctor that you have a condition that means it isn’t safe for you to swim then go for it! It’s never too late to learn to swim and could be invaluable in the right, or possibly wrong, situation. Not only that, its great for your health, keeps you active and is an excellent workout.

How warm should a pool be for a baby?

We would advise that, through fear of contamination, you don’t take your baby swimming for at least the first two months. This is in regards to regulated swimming pools. We do not advise taking a baby to swim in a lake and river. If you are in any doubt what so ever then consult your doctor.

As babies have a lot of extra skin, they can struggle to regulate their own body temperature. This means that if we feel the water is too cold, it will be freezing for them and if we feel the water is getting too warm then they could burn. For a baby to feel comfortable the water temperature needs to be between 85°F and 90°F and if you see them start to shiver at all, then its time to get out.

Temperatures of anything over around 98°F should be strictly off limits until the baby is at least three years old. This includes any sort of hot tub, heated pool or spa. Again, this is due to small children not being able to regulate their own body temperature with the necessary efficiency.

When should you start teaching your baby to swim?

As with most things, there are conflicting views on this subject. A lot of people will tell you that your baby must be 6 months old before they can go swimming. Others believe that a baby can start going to the pool once they can support their own head. You know your baby best and if you are happy that they can support their own head and believe they are ready then that is up to you. Never take your baby swimming until they have had all their vaccinations. If you have any doubt about anything then consult your doctor.

What if my child will never swim?

It is a sad fact that, for one reason or another, every child will not be able to learn to swim. Some of them won’t even be able to go in the water at all. As every situation is different it is hard to give advice on the best course of action.
However, a device popular with disabled people who still like a dip is a swim collar. They ensure that the head is kept out of the water and are made from a sturdy, supportive material. This makes them durable, trustworthy and a popular choice.

Check out swim collars

If your child can simply not get involved with water then safety is of utmost concern.

How long does it take for a child to drown?

A child can drown in only a couple of inches of water. They can get themselves in trouble in as little as 10 seconds and will lose consciousness between under a minute and 2 minutes. After 4 to 6 minutes, irreversible brain damage and death can occur. Add into this that a child will rarely be able to call for help while drowning and we can begin to understand the magnitude of what we are dealing with.

Prevention is everything in this kind of situation and educating yourself as well as obtaining the appropriate safety equipment is the key to prevention.

Should I learn CPR if my child can’t swim?

There is an abundance of material to help you learn CPR and an array of CPR supplies you can acquire to help you along the way. You may also find it useful to find a CPR course in your area.  You may think this is excessive if you plan to teach your child to swim. But if that isn’t an option for you and this is to be an ongoing thing, then CPR is definitely an avenue worth exploring.

Are inflatable floatation devices safe?

The simple answer to this is, no. Inflatables, although they have their uses, are not as safe as proper safety equipment. Yes, it’s fine to use inflatable armbands with a child in a pool under your supervision. But you shouldn’t trust them as a safety device in which to keep your child from drowning in an emergency. They can easily deflate and become unreliable.

Should my child wear a life jacket?

Absolutely, children should always wear a life jacket when on a boat or swimming in open water such as lakes and rivers. Children under 5 should always wear a lifejacket when in or around water. Remember, no one plans to get into trouble and it usually happens when we least expect it. If you’re camping near a body of water or plan to spend time near water while on your trip then life jackets are essential.

Can you swim with a life jacket on?

Not only can you swim with a life jacket on but they are excellent when learning to swim and essential for wild swimming. Oceans, lakes, and rivers can have hidden dangers and fluctuating temperatures which means there are situations in which a lifejacket could literally save your life!

How often should you replace a life jacket?

If you look after your life jackets then they will keep for a long time. If they become damaged or broken, however, replace them immediately.

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when is it safe to swim outdoors?

The safety of swimming outdoors really depends on your research and observation of the area. Look for changes, make sure your entry and exits are clear check the depths and look for obstacles. Remember still or slow-moving waters are much safer than fast currents. Ask around, if the locals don’t swim there then there’s a good chance that you shouldn’t either.

Is it safe to swim in the rain?

It’s not a good idea to swim in the rain. Firstly, water conducts electricity. This means that your chances of getting struck by lightning are dramatically increased. The cold water on your head, as well as lowering temperatures in the water, means that your chances of catching hyperthermia are also increased. Not only that, water underfoot can lead to things getting slippery and falls around water can lead to drowning.

How long can you swim in cold water?

A person could only last up to 15 minutes before unconsciousness sets in at 32.5°F. In waters between 50°F and 60°F a person can last between 1 and 2 hours before losing consciousness and should expect to survive between 1 and 6 hours. At 70°F+ a person can survive from 3 hours to indefinitely with 80°F+ being classed as pretty much safe and what you should aim for.

To learn about having more fun on the water while camping, check out our article on Stand Up Paddleboarding.

Or if you’re interested in going hiking whilst camping with your children then check out our article on backpack carriers and slings.