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Water Safety for Parents

The importance of water safety

Although most drownings occur in residential swimming pools, children can drown in just one inch of water (such as in buckets, bath tubs, 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. The majority of children who survive being submerged in water without brain damage are discovered within two minutes, and 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.

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

  • Do not rely on personal flotation devices (PFDs) or swimming lessons to protect your child.

  • Install childproof fencing around swimming pools.

  • Make sure you have rescue equipment, a telephone, 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.

  • Do not allow children to dive in waters less than 9 feet deep.

A warning about personal flotation devices

On boats, PFDs should be U.S. Coast Guard-approved and should fit properly. Inflatable swimming devices, such as "water wings," rafts, toys, and other items, are not considered safe and should not be relied on to prevent drowning.

Water safety in and around the home

More than half of all infant drownings (under age 1) occur in bathtubs. Supportive baby bathtub "rings" do not prevent drownings if the child is unsupervised. Water hazards in and around the home may include the following:

  • Buckets

  • Diaper pails

  • Toilets

  • Ice chests with melted ice

  • Hot tubs, spas, and whirlpools

  • Ditches and post holes

  • Wells

  • Ponds and fountains

Small children can drown when they lean forward to look into a bucket or open the toilet. Because the head is the heaviest part of a small child, it is easy for him or her to fall over into a container. Containers filled with liquid often weigh more than the small child and will not tip over when the child falls in.

Swimming pool safety

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

  • Children swim unsupervised.

  • The pool is not properly fenced in.

  • There is no telephone with emergency numbers nearby.

  • There is no rescue equipment near the pool.

  • Parents rely on PFDs to keep their child safe.

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 is estimated that in 90 percent of 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 do not completely cover the pools pose a threat, because children can slip between the cover into the pool.

If children are around bodies of water on a regular basis, it benefits parents to learn CPR, which, in case of an emergency, 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/or death. Diving accidents occur when a person:

  • Dives into shallow water.

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

  • Dives into the shallow end of a pool.

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