Essential Strategies to Prevent Drowning

It’s an important safety issue to review every summer, and this may be an especially good moment to brush up.
Anywhere there is water there is risk of drowning, especially for children.

If a child is missing, check the water first.

As many as 69% of young children who are found drowned or submerged in swimming pools were not expected to be in or at the pool.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children.

In the United States:

  • More children ages 1–4 die from drowning than any other cause of death.
  • For children ages 5–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.
  • Three children die every day as a result of drowning.
  • Most fatal drownings happen when there is poor or absent supervision.
  • Drowning can happen quickly and quietly.
  • Drowning can happen even in the presence of lifeguards

While children are at highest risk, anyone can drown.

Every year in the United States there are an estimated:

  • 4,000* fatal unintentional drownings—that is an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.
  • 8,000† nonfatal drownings—that is an average of 22 nonfatal drownings per day.

The Most Dangerous Locations Vary by Age

  • Children younger than 1 year old are more likely to drown at home.
  • For children younger than 5, 87% of drowning fatalities happen in home pools or hot tubs.
  • Most take place in pools owned by family, friends or relatives.
  • After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location where young children drown. However, buckets, bath seats, wells, cisterns, septic tanks, decorative ponds, and toilets are also potential drowning sources for infants and toddlers.
  • Those 5 to 17 years old are more likely to drown in natural water, such as a pond or lake.

Take these sensible precautions when you’re around water (even if you’re not planning to swim).

  • Know your limitations, including physical fitness, medical conditions.
  • Never swim alone; swim with lifeguards and/or water watchers present.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket appropriate for your weight and size and the water activity. Always wear a life jacket while boating, regardless of swimming skill.
  • Swim sober.
  • Understand the dangers of hyperventilation and hypoxic blackout.
  • Know how to call for help.

Understand and adjust for the unique risks of the water environment you are in, such as:

  • Ocean rip currents.
  • Water temperature.
  • Shallow or unclear water.
  • Underwater hazards, such as vegetation and animals

You can prevent drowning.

  • Learn basic swimming and water safety skills - Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning. Children who have had swimming lessons still need close and constant supervision when in or around water.
  • Build fences that fully enclose pools - Construct and use a four-sided fence that is at least four feet in height and fully encloses the pool and separates it from the house, with self-closing and self-latching gates. Remove all toys from the pool area that might attract children to the pool when the pool is not in use.
  • Supervise closely - Designate a responsible adult to supervise closely and constantly when children are in or near water (including bathtubs). You can assign a specific adult to supervise each child when they have access to water. Adults watching kids in or near water should avoid distracting activities like reading, using the phone, and consuming alcohol or drugs, because drowning happens quickly and quietly. After swim time is over, shut and lock doors that give access to water. Be proactive and learn about any risks when visiting another home or unfamiliar location. Adults should supervise children closely even when lifeguards are present.
  • Wear a life jacket - Life jackets reduce the risk of drowning while boating for people of all ages and swimming abilities. Life jackets should be used by children for all activities while in and around natural water. Life jackets can also be used by weaker swimmers of all ages in and around natural water and swimming pools. Do not rely on air-filled or foam toys, as these are not safety devices.
  • Learn CPR - Your CPR skills could save someone’s life in the time it takes for paramedics to arrive. Many organizations such as American Red Cross and American Heart Association offer CPR training courses, both online and in-person.
  • Know the risks of natural waters - Lakes, rivers, and oceans have hidden hazards such as dangerous currents or waves, rocks or vegetation, and limited visibility. Check the forecast before activities in, on, or near water. Local weather conditions can change quickly and cause dangerous flash floods, strong winds, and thunderstorms with lightning strikes.
  • Avoid alcohol - Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or other water activities. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, and coordination. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
  • Use the buddy system - Always swim with a buddy. Choose swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible. The buddy system is especially beneficial for people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions that increase their risk of drowning.
  • Take additional precautions for medical conditions - Know if your medical condition might increase your risk for drowning and take extra care. For example, if you or a family member have a seizure disorder like epilepsy, have one-on-one supervision around water. People with seizure disorders can also consider taking a shower rather than a bath. Take extra precaution around water if you or a family member has other conditions that can increase drowning risk, like heart conditions or autism.
  • Consider the effects of medications - Avoid swimming if you take medications that impair your balance, coordination, or judgement. These side effects increase the risk of drowning. Several medications can produce these side effects, such as those used for anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  • Don’t hyperventilate or hold your breath for a long time Do not hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold your breath underwater for long periods of time. This can cause you to pass out and drown. This is sometimes called “hypoxic blackout” or “shallow water blackout”.

About Us

Kentucky's Just in Time Training is a web based service program designed to connect foster parents, kinship or other caregivers with training, peer experts and other resources. Questions are answered and practical solutions to care for children are discussed - all from the comfort of your home or office.


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