Swim instructors at the Wolverine Worldwide Family YMCA say above all, remember to stay calm.
HOLLAND (WZZM) -- Swimming, can turn from a safe activity to a life threatening situation in a matter of seconds. Often it's because of something we are doing wrong in the water. 13 On Your Side took a look at the top mistakes swimmers make and how to avoid them.
"He's gulping in water, he can't get his feet underneath him," describes Lisa Phillips of the actions of one of her lifeguards as he simulates getting caught in a rip current. "He is not moving anywhere. He's wearing himself out."
They are tell-tale signs of trouble in the water that most of us are familiar with. Too often, however, we don't know that we are the ones stirring the trouble up.
"Water is a very strong element and it can catch you by surprise," Phillips said. "People make a lot of mistakes."
Phillips, executive director of Holland Community Aquatic Center, says that, hands down, the number one mistake people make is swimming alone.
"Swimming alone is huge," Phillips said. "You hear a lot about people, someone who was out in a boat alone, someone who went swimming in the morning and disappeared. Nobody even knows what happens because nobody was there."
Phillips also cautions that adults must stay near young children while swimming.
"Adults, especially, need to be in arms reach of the children," Phillips said. "Even at our pools, we constantly have to remind adults to stay within arms reach of their little ones. Little ones can lose their footing and get knocked over and they can't get their head back up out of the water quickly."
Lifeguard and seasoned swimmer Nick Boersma feels swimming alone is never a good idea.
"Whether it be in a pool, a beach, or anywhere, if you go down, you are on your own with no one to call for help or come and get you," he said.
The second biggest swimming mistake is not knowing, or ignoring your limitations.
"Teenage males have the highest drowning rate there is," Phillips said. "They don't want to admit to their friends that i don't know how to swim. They say 'all my friends are doing it. If he can do it, I can do it. So, I am going to jump in and hope that i can make it.' When they let their ego take over it can cost them their lives."
According to these experts, number three is not paying attention to your environment. Phillips and Boersma say whether you are in a pool or open water, take heed to signs and other things in place to keep you safe.
"Almost all the time at pools, depths are posted," Boersma said. "So if you see something that is too deep and you are not a good swimmer, don't go there. Stay in the shallow water where you can touch the bottom and stay safe. Always watch out for the flags they have posted at lakes. They have green, yellow, and red; green is nice flat water, yellow you want to be a little cautious, and red, most of the time, you want to stay out of the water."
And of course, number four comes as no surprise.
"Bad behavior," Phillips said. "Probably the number one issue there is alcohol. When it comes to drownings, alcohol is related a large percent of the time. Your behavior and your actions can put you more at risk of a drowning happening. Don't horse around in water. Play, enjoy yourself, but your behavior is important."
Finally, wearing the wrong attire comes in at number five when it comes to not being water-wise.
"You can't go swimming in jeans and expect not to get tired," Phillips said. "They are going to weigh you down. Shirts can float up and get tangled and become drowning hazards themselves. Wear a bathing suit and material that is designed to stay to your skin like a swim suit. If you are going to put any type of floatation on your child, make sure it has a Coast Guard-approved stamp. Don't put water wings on them; they have a tendency to fall off and let their heads go under water."
Finally, Phillips reminds people that it is never too late to take swimming or swimming safety classes.