Drowning & Water Safety

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides helpful information on this topic through their website www.healthychildren.org. Click their link below for tips.


Be careful with children around pools, ponds, and other swimming places – drownings, near-drownings, and diving accidents are the third leading cause of serious injury in childhood!  Drownings also occur in the bathtub, Hot tubs, toilets, ice chests and even buckets.  A child can drown in just 2cm (1 inch) of water!  Careful supervision around all these potential hazards is essential.

Teach children respect for water and safe water behavior.  Have a set of pool rules, post them, and enforce them.  Install a fence at least 5 feet high entirely around your pool, including between it and your house (avoid chain link since it affords foot holds for young climbers).  Have sturdy self-closing latches put on the pool gate at least 54 inches off the ground.  Pool covers should not be free-floating (children could slip underneath), and should be fully removed when people are swimming.

Do not keep toys around the pool (they encourage play in a hazardous area).  Do not allow “rough-housing” or diving in shallow water — one of the most common causes of drowning is HEAD TRAUMA while in the water.  Do not trust or teach a child to depend on flotation devices. Instead teach children to swim (either yourself or with trained instructors) once they are 3-4 years old.  Knowing how to swim is no substitute for supervision, however.

All children, swimmers or not, need constant and attentive supervision in and around the water by an adult who is an able swimmer. Never leave the child or take your eyes off them, even for a moment — disaster can strike swiftly.  If you take responsibility for supervising children around the water remember to stay sober — your ability to save a child will depend on your judgment, reflexes, and speed of response — all of which are greatly impaired if you drink or take drugs.

A phone at pool side is a good idea — not only for emergencies but because it removes the temptation to leave the children alone to go answer the phone.  No one, not even and adult, should swim in a pool alone.  Make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency.  Have basic rescue equipment available and know how to do CPR.  The sooner a child is rescued from the water and adequate CPR is begun the better the ultimate outcome will be.  Have practice drills at home so everyone knows what to do in case of a near-drowning.

When boating, children should always wear Coast-Guard approved floatation devices which fit them well.  At the beach, enforce the “buddy system” with older children (even if that means you or another adult must be the child’s buddy) and never let young children out of your sight.

Did you know that more children drown in bathtubs than in swimming pools or at beaches? The peak age for bathtub drowning is 1 year, with the majority of such tragic events happening between 6 months and 3 years of age.  No child under 4 should ever be left, even for a minute, unsupervised in a bathtub. None of this is news.  What the new studies show, however, it that being in the tub with an older sibling is no protection and no substitute for adult supervision.  Researchers in California & Australia showed that in 25-50% of bathtub drownings there was an older sibling in the tub with the victim. While the drownings weren’t in any way caused by “co-bathing”, researchers concluded that older siblings often fail to recognize when a drowning is occurring, and lack the ability to offer or summon help in time.  The lesson is that continuous adult supervision is necessary whenever a child less than 4 is in the bath, regardless of whether an older sibling is with them or not.

Finally, much has been said in the past decade about teaching very young children to swim. Classes are offered for the youngest infants and some advocate immersing the baby’s face. In my view, this is child abuse.  While it is true that babies have a “dive reflex”, (they will automatically close their airway when submerged) they also have a “swallow reflex” which can cause them to take in huge quantities of water in a very short time.  It is not difficult in a 20 minute “swim lesson” to get such severe derangement’s of blood chemistries (called “water poisoning”) as a result that the baby can suffer seizures and even death.  It is fine to take infants in the water – it can be a very enjoyable experience for you and for them. Teaching them to swim, however, is no protection against drowning and anyone who tells you to let go of them or submerge their face does not know what they are talking about.  The average child is not ready to do this or really learn to swim in earnest until at least age 4.