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Water Safety for Parents

The importance of water safety

Most drownings happen in residential swimming pools. But children can drown in just 1 inch of water (such as in buckets, bathtubs, wading pools, diaper pails, toilets, hot tubs, and spas). In addition, open waters, such as oceans, rivers, and lakes, pose a drowning threat to older children. Most children who survive being submerged in water without brain damage are discovered within 2 minutes. Most who die are found after 10 minutes.  

Parents are advised to take the following preventive steps to protect their children from drowning:

  • Never leave your child unsupervised near water at or in the home, or around any body of water, including a swimming pool of any size or depth.

  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and infant and child first aid.

  • Don't rely on personal flotation devices (PFDs) or swimming lessons to protect your child.

  • Install childproof fencing around swimming pools. The fencing should be at least 4 feet high and have a self-closing latch that is out of the reach of children.

  • Give your child swim lessons at the earliest age they can handle such lessons.

  • Make sure you have rescue equipment, a phone, and emergency phone numbers near the swimming pool.

  • Insist that your child wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device on boats at all times.

  • Don't allow children to dive in shallow or unfamiliar waters. Always have children enter water feet-first. Diving in shallow water can cause permanent physical disabilities or death.

A warning about personal flotation devices

On boats, PFDs should be U.S. Coast Guard-approved and should fit correctly. Inflatable swimming devices, such as "water wings," inflatable rafts, floating toys, and other items, are not considered safe. Don't rely on them to prevent drowning.

Water safety in and around the home

More than half of all infant drownings (under age 1) happen in bathtubs. Supportive baby bathtub "rings" don't prevent drownings if the child is left unsupervised. Water hazards in and around the home may include:

  • Buckets

  • Diaper pails

  • Toilets

  • Ice chests with melted ice

  • Hot tubs, spas, and whirlpools

  • Ditches and post holes

  • Wells

  • Ponds and decorative garden fountains

Small children can drown when they lean forward to look into a bucket or open the toilet. The head is the heaviest part of a small child. So it's easy for the child to fall over into a container. Containers filled with liquid often weigh more than the small child and won't tip over when the child falls in.

Swimming pool safety

More than half of childhood drownings happen in swimming pools, either at the child's home or the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. Pools are especially dangerous if:

  • Children swim unsupervised

  • The pool is not correctly fenced in

  • There is no phone with emergency numbers nearby

  • There is no rescue equipment near the pool

  • Parents rely on PFDs to keep their child safe

Open water safety

Only allow children to swim in the ocean when a lifeguard is on duty. Never let your child swim in fast-moving water or canals. Teach your child about rip currents. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until clear of the current. Never swim against the current.

Boating safety

When boating, sailing, and canoeing, children of all ages should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs, such as life jackets. In fact, many states require the use of PFDs on all boats at all times. It's estimated that most boating-related drownings victims were not wearing PFDs.

Drowning in the winter

Children can drown during the winter by falling through thin ice. In addition, pools with winter covers that don't completely cover the pools pose a threat. Children can slip between the cover into the pool.

It benefits parents to learn 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.

A warning about diving

Diving accidents can result in permanent spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and death. Diving accidents happen when a person:

  • Dives into shallow water.

  • Dives into above-ground pools, which are often shallow.

  • Dives into the shallow end of a pool.

  • Springs upward from the diving board and hits the board on the way down.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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