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Preventing Drowning

Drowning is silent and can happen in less than a minute.

Sobering facts about drowning you might not know

Did you realize that drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in children? In 2017, drowning claimed the lives of almost 1,000 children in the United States alone. 

In fact:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of injury death in U.S. children ages 1 through 4 years old.
  • Most infants drown in bathtubs or buckets.
  • Most pre-school-aged children drown in swimming pools.
  • Adolescents between 15 and 19 years old have the second highest fatal drowning rate.
  • Most adolescents drown in natural water settings.

What parents need to know about drowning

Don’t leave your child alone near water

As a parent or caregiver, you should never – not even for a moment – leave young children alone or in the care of another child while in or near a bathtub, pool, spa or wading pool.

The same goes when children are near irrigation ditches, ponds or other open water.

Drowning risks at home

You need to be aware of drowning risks associated with the hazards found in any home.

For example:

  • Infant bath seats can easily tip over, and children can slip out of them and drown – even in just a few inches of water. An adult should always be with an infant sitting in a bath seat in a bathtub.
  • Water in containers, such as pails and buckets, should always be emptied immediately after use.
  • Toilets are an often overlooked risk. To prevent drowning in toilets, young children should not be left alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks may be helpful.
  • Bathrooms, swimming pools and open water can be very dangerous as well. Parents and caregivers must be diligent about preventing unsupervised access to these areas.

Swimming skills are important

Water competency is the ability to anticipate, avoid and survive common drowning situations.

Evidence shows that children 1 and older can benefit from swim lessons.

But – swim lessons are not a guarantee of safety. They should be considered just one “layer of protection” among many (read more below) against drowning.

As a parent or caregiver you also need to provide barriers to prevent unintended water access. And always closely supervise children around the water.

Other drowning prevention strategies

Along with swimming skills, multiple additional layers of protection should be used to prevent drowning.

Fencing

Four-sided fencing (at least 4 feet tall) with self-closing and self-latching gates is the best researched and most effective drowning-prevention strategy for young children.

Fencing completely isolates the pool from your house and yard.

Life jackets

When used properly, life jackets are well-proven to prevent drowning fatalities.

Supervision

Adequate supervision must be close, constant and attentive – this is essential for preventing drowning!

For beginning swimmers, “Touch Supervision,” where a supervising adult is within arm’s reach of the child, is the best method.

The Haddon Matrix

Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Haddon Matrix outlines effective drowning prevention strategies.

Bold indicates the most evidence-based interventions.

Timing Personal Equipment Physical Environment Social Environment
Before the event Provide close, constant and attentive supervision of children and poor swimmers Install 4-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the house and yard Swim where lifeguards are present Mandate 4-sided residential pool fencing
Before the event Clear handoff supervision responsibilities Install self-closing and latching gates Attend to warning signage Mandate life jacket wear
Before the event Develop water competency, including water-safety knowledge, basic swim skills and the ability to recognize and respond to a swimmer in trouble Wear life jackets Swim at designated swim sites Adopt the Model Aquatic Health Code*
Before the event Evaluate preexisting health condition Install compliant pool drains Remove toys from pools when not in use to reduce temptation for children to enter  Increase availability of lifeguards
Before the event Know how to choose and fit a life jacket Install door locks Empty water buckets and wading pools Increase access to affordable and culturally compatible swim lessons
Before the event Avoid substance use Enclosures for open bodies of water __ Close high-risk waters during high-risk times
Before the event Know water hazards and conditions Promote life jacket loaner programs __ Develop designated open-water swim sites
Before the event Swim at a designated swim site Role model life jacket use by adults __ Enforce boating under the influence of laws
Before the event Learn CPR Make rescue devices available at swim sites __ __
Before the event Take a boater education course Phone access to call for help __ __
Before the event __ Ensure functional watercraft __ __
Event Water-survival skills Rescue device available __ EMS system
After the event Early bystander CPR AED __ Advanced medical care
After the event Bystander response Rescue equipment __ __

*The Model Aquatic Health Code provides guidelines and standards for equipment, staffing and training, and monitoring swimming pools. 

More Information

You can learn more about water safety and drowning prevention at our health library - Drowning Prevention

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