Water safety: Protect your child from drowning
Medically reviewed on Feb 21, 2017
Most children are drawn to water. It's sparkly. Things float in it. It's fun to splash. But water safety is no laughing matter. Anyone can have a water-related accident — even children who know how to swim. To keep your children safe in and near the water, follow these guidelines.
General water safety
To reduce the risk of drowning in any swimming environment:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Parents and child care providers should know CPR.
- Supervise. Never leave children unsupervised near a pool, hot tub or natural body of water. During gatherings, adults who know how to swim can take turns being the "designated watcher," who isn't distracted. Children under age 4 should be supervised at arm's length, even if they can swim. Don't rely on air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles or inner tubes, to keep children safe.
- Teach children to swim. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children age 4 and older can learn to swim. Children ages 1 to 4 might be able to learn depending on their physical and emotional development. Swimming lessons, however, don't necessarily prevent drowning and aren't a substitute for adult supervision.
- Avoid alcohol. Don't drink alcohol when you are boating, swimming or supervising children who are swimming.
Residential swimming pools and spas
To ensure water safety in a home pool or spa:
- Fence it in. Install a fence at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall that separates the pool area from the house and yard. The fence shouldn't block the view of the pool from outside the fenced area. Vertical slats on fences should have gaps no wider than 4 inches (10.2 centimeters), and the fence shouldn't be more than 4 inches off the ground. Avoid fences that children can easily climb. Install self-closing and self-latching gates that open away from the pool area with latches beyond a child's reach.
- Install alarms. Use an alarm on the house door that leads to the pool area, a floating pool-alarm or a below-water alarm. Keep in mind that an alarm isn't a substitute for appropriate fencing and supervision.
- Block pool and hot tub access. Use a rigid, motorized safety cover to block access to the pool when it's not in use. Secure a cover on hot tubs. Don't allow water to collect on top of the pool or hot tub cover. Remove aboveground pool steps or ladders or lock them behind a fence when the pool isn't in use. Empty inflatable pools after each use.
- Remove toys. Don't leave pool toys in the water. A child might fall into the water while trying to retrieve a toy.
- Beware of drains. Don't allow children to play near or sit on pool or hot tub drains. Body parts and hair can become entrapped by the strong suction. Specially designed drain covers, safety vacuum-release systems and multiple drains can prevent entrapment.
- Keep emergency equipment handy. Equipment might include a life ring with rope, reaching pole or shepherd's crook. Always have a phone in the pool area.
If you have a pool or hot tub, follow all local safety ordinances.
Natural bodies of water
Swimming conditions can be unpredictable in ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans. Water depth can change rapidly, as can water temperature, currents and the weather. Murky water might conceal hazards. Follow these water safety tips:
- Wear a life jacket. Children and adults should wear personal flotation devices whenever riding in a boat or fishing. An air-filled swimming aid isn't a substitute for a life jacket.
- Feet first. The first descent into any body of water should be a jump — feet first. Before the jump, check water depth and temperature and look for underwater hazards.
- Stay in designated areas. At public beaches, swim only in areas set aside for swimming. Pay attention to posted warnings about unsafe swimming conditions. Don't allow children to swim in drainage ditches, abandoned surface mines or other water-filled areas not intended for swimming.
- Beware of thin ice. Drowning can occur in the winter, too. Avoid walking, skating or riding on weak or thawing ice. Pay attention to posted warnings regarding ice safety and consult a local department of recreation for current ice conditions. If you spend time on frozen lakes or rivers in winter, learn rescue techniques, such as staying off the ice and using a rope, branch or other long object to reach someone who has fallen through the ice.
Toilets, bathtubs and buckets
A baby can drown in just 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of water. A curious toddler can fall into a toilet, bucket or fish tank. Consider these precautions:
- Keep the bathroom door closed. Install a safety latch or doorknob cover on the outside of the door.
- Supervise bath time. Never leave a child alone in the bathtub or in the care of another child. Drain water from the tub immediately after use.
- Shut toilet lids. Consider installing childproof locks on lids.
- Store buckets safely. Empty buckets and other containers immediately after use. Don't leave them outside, where they might accumulate water.