Swimming and Water Safety

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children younger than five in the US. Children tend to slip silently into the water when they drown. They do not usually splash or make a sound. A child can drown silently within 30 seconds.

  • In 2004, there were 3,308 accidental fatal drownings in the US which averages nine people a day.
  • There were an additional 676 fatalities due to boating-related incidents.
  • For every child 14 years and younger who died from drowning, five more received emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • Nonfatal drownings can cause brain damage that result in long-term, severe disabilities.

Risk Factors

  • Children ages 1 to 4 years most often drown in residential swimming pools. They were last seen in the home, were out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of both parents at the time.
  • Children under the age of 1 most often drown in bathtubs, buckets or toilets.
  • Children age 15 and over most often drown in natural water settings such as lakes, rivers or the ocean.
  • Most boating fatalities are caused by drowning. The US Coast Guard reports that over 85% of the individuals who drown while boating were not wearing life jackets.
  • Alcohol use is involved in about 40% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with drowning.
  • Most drownings occur at unguarded sites.

Improving safety around a home pool

  • The single most important way to keep your child safe is to install a barrier around the pool. This barrier must be a non-climbable five-foot fence that completely surrounds the pool. All gates must be locked when adults are not present.All gates must be self-closing and self-latching and open outward.
  • Doors that open into the pool area must have latches installed above a child’s reach (54 inches).
  • Place alarms on doors and windows that lead into the pool area.
  • Install a pool safety cover and use it. Ensure that there is no standing water on the cover.
  • Keep rescue equipment by the pool – shepherd’s hook, safety ring and rope.
  • Keep a phone by the pool.
  • Remove toys when pool is not in use to prevent children going in on their own to retrieve them.

Things to remember when around water

  • Always assign an adult as the Designated Safety Observer to supervise the pool area. Never assume that someone else is watching. The observer should not be involved in any other activity such as reading or talking on the phone.
  • Never leave a young child alone near water – in the tub or pool.
  • For older children, use the buddy system when swimming.
  • Floating toys like water wings and air mattresses are no substitute for a life vest.
  • Learn to swim and use rescue equipment. Be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming classes as the primary means of drowning prevention for children younger than 4.
  • Watch the weather. Leave the pool area in the event of thunderstorms when lightning strikes are dangerous.

Additional Resources


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