Drowning Prevention and Swim Safety
Water is appealing to children and can easily draw their attention, even when it’s not swim or bath time. Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury-related death in children between the ages of 1 and 4, and the second leading cause of accidental death in children 1 to 15 years of age. Most infant drownings occur in bathtubs and buckets. Toddlers between one and four years old most commonly drown in home swimming pools.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several ways parents can help keep children safe around water ―all year long―in your own backyard, your neighbor’s, or on vacation.
- It starts with adult supervision. For infants and toddlers, a parent should be within arms-reach at all times. For older children, an adult should be paying constant attention and free from distractions, like talking on the phone, socializing, tending household chores, or drinking alcohol. The supervising adult must know how to swim. Parents should never—even for a moment—leave children alone near a swimming pool, open bodies of water, such as a lake or ocean, or near water at home (bathtubs, spas or even backyard baby pools).
If you have to step away for a minute, designate another adult to keep a close eye on your child by the water. Be sure to make eye contact with them and let them know that you are walking away for the moment. Make sure they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Get their verbal confirmation that they are in charge and watching your child while you are briefly away.
- Fences are the most effective, proven way to prevent drowning of young children. All pool fences should meet the following requirements:
- Pool fences should be at least 4 feet high and completely surround the entire pool, separate from the house and the yard.
- Fences should be “climb-proof” without any footholds or objects close by that children could use to climb over the fence. Chain-link fences are discouraged as they are easy to climb.
- To make sure that small children cannot squeeze through, make sure there are no openings wider than 4 inches around the base of the fence. This will also help keep small pets out of the pool area.
- The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate that only opens away from the pool area, not into the pool area. The latch should be high up out of children’s reach, at least 54 inches from the ground.
- When the pool is not in use, the gate should always be locked. No toys should be located in the pool area.
Pool covers should cover the pool entirely so that a child cannot slip under. Power-operated covers are often the safest and easiest to use. Make sure there is no standing water on top of the cover. Pool covers are not a substitute for a fence.
- Drowning is silent. If a small child enters a pool or slips under the water in the bathtub, it is often quiet. (This is why constant adult supervision is so important). Having an alarm on the pool, pool gate, house doors and windows can prevent children from getting outside and into the pool without an adult noticing. House doors should be locked when it is not time to be outside with parent supervision.
Children can drown in 2 inches of water in a matter of minutes. Empty all baby pools, buckets of water, water tables, and bathtubs immediately after every use to decrease chances of accidental home drownings
Be extra cautious when you are visiting someone else’s home. Check to make sure that doors are locked and that children cannot access a backyard pool area without someone watching them. Check bathrooms, backyards and play areas to make sure that there is no standing water or open water areas. Ultimately, you are the parent and are responsible for any possible dangers at someone else’s home.
A few additional important tips:
- If a child is missing, always check the pool or any water source first! Every second is important in a drowning situation.
- Always listen for noise when kids are playing in or near the water. If it gets too quiet, check out the situation ASAP.
- Educate caregivers on home pool safety and rules. Make sure all babysitters, grandparents or other siblings know what to do in an emergency. It’s also better if they know CPR.
- In a drowning emergency, get the child immediately out of the water. If they are not breathing on their own, begin performing CPR right away. Designate someone to call 911 ASAP.
Read more drowning prevention tips at healthychildren.org.