Nassau County officials discuss water safety at Wantagh Park


With the summer swimming season here, Nassau County officials are offering tips to ensure a safe, enjoyable time in the water.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman spoke at Wantagh Park Pool on June 25, discussing general water safety for county residents, with public pools now open and the crowds at area beaches continuing to grow. According to Blakeman, Long Island has already seen numerous water-related incidents this spring and early summer.

Six non-fatal swimming emergencies have occurred already this year, according to county reports.

“Every year we hear of accidental drownings,” Blakeman said. “We hear of children in pools who have drowned. We hear about boating accidents, young people not wearing their life preservers.”

The county reported nine near-drownings last year, with six occurring in pools. Most of the incidents, according to Blakeman, involved children and infants.

“It is something that happens,” he said. “So let’s try to avoid it.”

To stay safe, Blakeman advised keeping an eye on children near any body of water. He recommended life preservers for children, and pool alarm systems for added security. Alarms are available for pool gates, and wave sensors can detect when someone jumps into a pool.

Early education is also important for swim safety, Blakeman said. “Get your kids into swim lessons and floating lessons early,” he said.

Supervision is recommended, even for swimmers in large groups, he noted. For pool parties, he suggested hiring a lifeguard or assigning someone to watch swimmers in case of distress.

Joining Blakeman was Stew Leonard Jr., president and chief executive of the Connecticut-based supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s. Leonard shared a tragic personal experience: In 1989, his 21-month-old son, Stew Leonard III, drowned in a pool.

The following year, Leonard and his wife, Kim, founded the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation in memory of their son. The organization raises money for water safety awareness and education initiatives, and funds lifeguard training as well as swim lessons for children in need.

Supervising children is crucial, as is education, Leonard said. He emphasized the importance of teaching kids to roll onto their backs in the water, a position in which they can float and breathe easily.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, and the second-leading cause of death for those ages 5 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that roughly 4,000 drownings occur each year in the U.S., an average of 11 deaths per day. Most happen from June to August.

According to a CDC statement released last month, drownings have increased since the coronavirus pandemic. More than 4,500 people in the U.S. drowned each year from 2020 to 2022, 500 more than in 2019.

Roughly 15 percent of adults do not know how to swim, and over half have never taken a lesson, the CDC reports.

County officials also addressed other water safety concerns, such as boating accidents. Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that the Nassau County Police Department’s Marine Bureau has added extra staff for the summer months. The bureau patrols the north and south shores, and also monitors lakes, ponds and canals.

“The boats will be out there,” Ryder said. “If you need them, you can reach out. Call 911 or use the marine channel, and our boats will respond to help you.”

Blakeman added that boaters should be responsible when operating their vessels this summer. “Don’t drink and pilot your boat,” he said. “You will get arrested. It is illegal. It’s the same thing as driving while intoxicated.”