When it gets hot, there's nothing like taking a dip in a swimming pool to cool off. Whether you swim in a public pool or are lucky enough to have a pool in your back yard, you, your family and your guests need to remember some basic safety practices to follow around the water.

It's especially important to keep an eye on small children at poolside. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that drowning is the fourth leading cause of accidental death for children under age 5 in the United States.

Most childhood drownings happen in pools and hot tubs, and many take place in the back yard when grown-ups think that the child is safely inside the house. Adults must watch all children in the water at all times. Adults should think of an unwatched, open pool or hot tub as something that is as potentially dangerous to children as fire, poison or traffic.

If you don't know how to swim, this is the summer to learn! Swimming is lots of fun and great for a lifetime of fitness--it's also a basic safety skill. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim.

The American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of all ages and all levels of ability. To enroll in a course to learn or improve your ability to swim, ask your parents to contact your local Red Cross chapter.

The Red Cross also offers training for lifeguards. Kids as young as 11 who are already strong swimmers can begin training in safety and rescue skills, and be certified later.

If you can't swim, don't be fooled into thinking inner tubes, rafts, chairs or other flotation devices will keep you safe. If you tip over, you could be in trouble right away, especially if you happen to have floated into the deep end of a pool. Inexperienced swimmers should use only Coast Guard-approved life jackets--also called "personal flotation devices," or PFDs--strapped on in a position that will keep their heads above water.

Even if you are a good swimmer, you must be careful in and near the water. Remembering these basic rules can help you stay safe:

1. Never swim alone. Always swim with a buddy in an area supervised by adults.

2. Don't run beside the pool. You could slip and fall into water that is too deep for you.

3. Look before you leap--choose safe places to swim and dive. Never dive into the shallow end of a pool.

4. Never throw anyone into a pool. A person unprepared for such a surprise could easily be hurt.

5. Never wrestle in the water. Even playful wrestling can pose a risk of drowning to smaller, weaker children.

And don't forget one last "rule for the pool": Have fun!

Tips for Parents

Here are some safety tips from the American Red Cross for families with backyard pools:

* Enclose the pool completely with a self-locking, self-closing fence with vertical bars. Openings in the fence should be no more than four inches wide. If the house is part of the barrier, the doors leading from the house to the pool should remain locked and be protected with an alarm that produces sounds when the door is unexpectedly opened.

* Never leave furniture near the fence that would enable a child to climb over the fence.

* Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use. Toys can attract young children into the pool.

* Always keep basic lifesaving equipment by the pool and know how to use it. A pole, a rope and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are recommended.

* Install a phone by the pool or keep a cordless phone nearby so that you can call 911 in an emergency.

* Learn Red Cross CPR. Post CPR instructions and 911 or your local emergency number in the pool area.

To learn more about home pool safety, you can purchase a 20-minute video, "It Only Takes a Minute," from your local Red Cross chapter. You can contact the American Red Cross national headquarters in Arlington by telephone at 703-248-4222 or on the Web at www.redcross.org.

For You to Do

If you have ever flown on an airplane, you have watched the flight attendants give a brief, clear introduction to the plane's safety features and practices. For fun--and to help you remember pool safety rules yourself--make up a skit for demonstrating poolside safety. Perform the skit for your family and guests who will be using the pool.