Water Safety—Prevention

If your children are around bodies of water on a regular basis, it's important to know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In case of an emergency, CPR can save lives, reduce the severity of injury, and improve the chance of survival. CPR training is available through the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and your local hospital or fire department. Other specific drowning prevention tips include the following.

Babies (up to 1 year old)

Babies can drown in just 1 inch of water. Most infant drownings happen in bathtubs. Some drowning prevention tips to remember around your infant include the following:

  • Never leave a young child alone in the bathtub, not even for a minute. Even supportive bathtub "rings" can't keep your child from drowning.

  • Empty any buckets or other containers of their liquids.

  • Keep bathroom doors closed and install childproof devices (such as doorknob covers) to keep your child out of the bathroom.

  • Keep toilets closed and use childproof toilet locks.

Preschoolers (1 to 5 years old)

Children in this age group most often drown in swimming pools. This often happens when the preschooler wanders away from the house and into the pool without parents being aware the child is gone. Children can slip into swimming pools without a sound or splash.

Swimming pool safety

To protect your child from drowning in a swimming pool, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these tips:

  • Always watch your child closely in or near a swimming pool, including small blow-up pools.

  • Never leave a small child alone in or near pools, including small wading pools, even for a moment.

  • Remove toys from the pool so that your child is not tempted to reach for them.

  • Always empty blow-up pools after each use and put them away.

  • Don't let your child use a diving board in a pool that is not approved for diving.

  • Stay away from pool slides; they are very dangerous.

  • Keep electrical appliances away from the pool to prevent electric shock.

  • Don't allow riding toys near pools.

  • Keep a phone near the pool for emergency use.

  • Install isolation fencing around the pool. A fence around your pool not only protects your child, but other children in the area as well. Fencing around pools should meet these specifications to increase your child's safety:

    • The fence should separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard.

    • Fences around pools should have 4 sides and not include the wall of the house as 1 side.

    • Fencing must be at least 48 inches tall.

    • Spacing between the fence slats should be no more than 4 inches. For chain-link fences, the diamond shapes should not be bigger than 1 3/4 inches.

    • The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate, with latches that are above a child's reach. The gate should also open away from the pool, so that if a toddler leans against an unlatched gate, it will close.

  • Ensure that all pool drains have grates or covers that meet safety standards to prevent the child from being trapped.

  • Other helpful devices include pool alarms, door or gate alarms, and automatic pool covers that cover the pool completely. Be certain there are no spaces between the cover and the side of the pool. Children can slip into and under the water through such spaces. You can increase the safety of your child when you use these with pool fencing. Also make sure there is no standing water on the pool cover.

School-aged children (5 to 12 years old)

Children in this age group are more likely to drown in bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers:

  • Always watch your child when they are swimming in any body of water.

  • Don't let your child dive unless you know the depth of the water and it is at least 9 feet.

  • Don't allow your child to swim during thunderstorms or lighting storms.

  • Don't let your child roughhouse with others in the water in ways that may be mistaken for drowning.

  • Teach your child to stay calm and tread water until help arrives if they drift too far from shore.

  • Make sure your child wears a personal flotation device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard when boating.

  • Don't allow your child to swim around boats or in areas where people are water-skiing.

  • Don't let your child play with blow-up water toys in water that is above the waist.

  • Have your children take swimming lessons. But don't use their swimming skills as a replacement for the safety strategies listed above.

Teens (12 to 18 years old)

Although older children are more likely to know how to swim, they are at risk for drowning. Reasons include overestimation of their skills, unawareness of water currents or water depth, and being near water when drinking alcohol or using drugs. Teens can also sometimes lack impulse control and are subject to peer pressure. All of these factors can place your teen in a dangerous situation. To protect your teen from drowning, AAP offers these tips:

  • Insist that your teen always swim with a buddy.

  • Encourage your teen to take swimming, diving, and water safety or rescue classes to give them the skills needed to swim and dive safely. These classes may also prevent your teen from acting recklessly.

  • Teach your teen never to swim or dive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

  • Make sure your teen checks the depth of the water before diving. Urge your teen to always enter water feet first when going into the water for the first time.

  • Have your teens take swimming lessons. But make certain they understand that all of the other safety strategies apply, no matter what their swimming skills may be.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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