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Drowning Prevention - Water Safety Tips

Child Safety Basics


Updated May 22, 2009

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for young children.

According to the CDC, each year, more than 500 children under the age of five drown in pools, spas, natural bodies of water, and inside the home in the bathtub or a bucket of water.

Closer to home, many of us can recall recent stories from the newspaper or news about children who drowned in the past year.

That makes it important to keep water safety in mind at all times, especially if you have a pool, hot tub, or pond at your home.

Layers of Protection Plan

One of the best methods of drowning prevention is to keep your kids out of the water when they aren't supervised. That usually means making sure that they can't get in the pool on their own, which is especially important for toddlers and preschoolers.

To keep kids out of the pool area when they can't be supervised, experts recommend that you install a four-sided fence around the pool. This fence should be at least four feet high and have a gate with a self-closing and self-latching gate that young children can not open on their own.

Your pool fence will form one important layer of protection in your water safety plan. In case this layer breaks down though, such as if someone props the gate open, it is important to have other layers of protection, including:

  • Childproof all doors that lead from the house to the pool area.
  • Remove all objects from around your pool fence that your child can use to climb over the fence.
  • Remove all toys from around the pool that might tempt your child to try to get into the pool area.
  • In addition to the fence around your pool, consider also having a fence around your backyard.
  • Keep rescue equipment and a phone by the pool in case you need to call for help.
  • Always check the pool first if your child is missing.
  • Add a pool alarm with a remote receiver that you can keep in the house so that you know if a child falls in the water.
  • Install a power safety cover that can be placed over the pool when it is not in use.
  • Remove steps and ladders from above ground pools when they are not in use.

Also, if you use a mesh pool fence or removable pool fence, be sure to keep it up or put it back up anytime you take it down.

Drowning Prevention

To help prevent drownings, in addition to childproofing your pool, experts recommend that you:

  • Always make sure that kids swim with adult supervision.
  • Assign a designated 'water watcher,' a responsible adult whose only responsibility is to watch the kids swimming and playing in the water if you have a pool party.
  • Teach your kids to swim by the time they are four to five years old. Younger children might participate in an aquatics program, but you should not consider this assurance that they are safe from drowning or that they can swim alone.
  • Learn CPR so that you can be prepared if your child does have a problem in the water.
  • Have your kids use a Coast Guard-approved life vest or life jacket until they learn how to swim.
  • Encourage teens to never swim alone.
  • Empty buckets, never leave young children alone in the bathtub, and childproof your bathrooms, since an infant or toddler can even drown in the commode.
  • Don't let older kids dive into water from the side of a pool. Encourage them to dive from a diving board instead and to always dive with their hands in front of them.
  • Encourage kids to go down water slides feet first only.

Remember often overlooked places that a young child can drown, such as a garden pond, nearby lake, or even a backyard wading pool. Install fences to keep young kids away from ponds and lakes and empty your wading pool when you aren't using it.

Hot Tub Dangers

In addition to pools, children are also at risk for drowning in hot tubs, spas, and whirlpools.

Dangers can include:

  • hair entanglement
  • bodypart entrapment
  • hot water

Hair and body part entrapment can occur when the suction from a drain outlets sucks and holds a child's hair or body part into the drain.

To keep your kids safe in hot tubs, spas, and whirlpools, make sure you have the latest dual drains and drain covers installed, have drain covers checked each year by a professional to make sure they are working properly, know how to quickly turn off the pump if you need to, and keep the water temperature at or below 104 degrees.

Like your pool, it is also important to childproof your hot tub so that your kids can't get in the water without adult supervision.

What You Need To Know

  • Make sure your kids can't get over, under, or through your pool fence and that they can't open the pool gate on their own.

  • If a door of your house opens directly into the pool area, be sure to install an alarm that sounds when that door is opened to alert you if your child gets out into the pool area. Adults can usually temporarily deactivate these alarms when they open the door.

  • Be extra mindful of drowning prevention when your kids may be at most risk -- during parties, when you are on vacation, or when you are at a friend's house who has a pool.


American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers. PEDIATRICS Vol. 105 No. 4 April 2000, pp. 868-870.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). [Accessed May 2009].

Consumer Product Safety Commission. BACKYARD POOL: Always Supervise Children, Safety Commission Warns. CPSC Document #5097.

Consumer Product Safety Commission. Spas, Hot Tubs, and Whirlpools. CPSC Document #5112.

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