Drowning Prevention Guide

Reviewed by health expert Sally Russell, MN, CMSRN, CNE

Drowning prevention isn’t just handy if you own a pool. It can take place in just inches of water.¹ Even if you don’t think you or your family are likely to be in a situation where a drowning may occur, you might be at some point. It’s the fourth leading cause of death around the home.

Our guide can help you prevent a drowning situation for children and adults at home, the lake, or the pool.



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Drowning prevention for kids

Teach water safety

Teaching children about water safety and pool safety early is essential. Health expert and mother of two, Sally Russell, MN, CMSRN, CNE, says that if you live near a lake, pond, or a pool, you should develop a routine of always putting a swim jacket on your child before going to that area.

“I know it takes time, and sometimes doesn't seem worth it, but once a toddler learns that the only way they can be in that area is to have that swim jacket on, it becomes a habit—a routine if you will. So they know that's what has to happen before they even go out the door.” —Sally Russell

Here are some additional ways to keep children safe around pools and lakes.

Get swim education early

Swimming lessons at a very early age reduce the risk of drowning in children and teens.² Even babies can learn how to swim in specialized classes.

“My niece actually started swimming lessons before she was a year old, as her mother had grown up around a lake and knew of families who had lost children to drowning. It was the best way she could think of to protect her daughter.” —Sally Russell
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The easy way to find swimming lessons

The American Red Cross free swim-lessons tool can help you find classes in your area for babies, kids, teens, and adults.

You may also consider lifeguard training for teens. This added layer of education can teach your teen how to react and help in a water emergency, which is useful whether they want a job at the local pool this summer or not.

Always supervise children around water

No matter what, adult supervision is key when it comes to kids and water. It can take just seconds for a child to get into a drowning situation. 

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What to do if your child goes under the water

Fence off pools

Fencing is an excellent way to prevent kids from accessing your home’s pool. For the fence to work, make sure it’s always locked when the pool is not in use. Beware, though. Some children will figure out how to scale a locked fence, so it’s not foolproof protection.

There are various safety products you can add to your pool too. These pool accessories will alert you when a child is alone near the water.

Be aware of less obvious dangers around the home

Even if you don’t own a pool, there are still drowning dangers around your home:

  • Kiddie pools
  • Ponds
  • Water features
  • Toilets
  • Large buckets
  • Hot tubs and jacuzzis
  • Ditches around your yard after it rains
  • Open wells (these should be fitted with a childproof cover)

Also, there are some unexpected ways kids can access drowning hazards. Be sure to keep pet doors locked to prevent escapes to the outdoors. And ensure that screen doors and window screens don’t have holes that small children can climb through too.

Keep bath time safe

75% of infant drownings happen in a bathtub.² Never step away, even for a second, when bathing babies and young children. Remember, even if you only put a little water in the tub, a human can drown in just an inch of water. Also, don’t trust a baby bath seat to keep your tot upright in the water. These chairs can tip over, even when suctioned to the floor of the tub.

You shouldn’t just worry about tub drownings during bath time. A tricky tot can wander into the bathroom and attempt to start their own baths. Even babies as young as 10 to 18 months can climb into a bathtub. Childproof bathroom door handles and make sure the doors are always closed.

Stop sneaky kids with sensors

Pool alarm
Poolguard Pool Door Alarm
$59.95
Pro Bullet Detects movement
Pro Bullet Uses magnetic connections

Kids are sneaky, so adding multiple alarms around the house is a great idea to prevent drowning. Put motion sensor alarms on doors that lead to the backyard, pool area, or bathroom so you know when your kiddo is on the move to a potentially dangerous area.

“We actually put alarms on the doors so that if the door were opened that we used to head toward that open water, we would be alerted to someone having gone through it. Yes, the alarm was annoying, as it went off EVERY time someone went through it, but it did help me catch little ones who thought they were being tricky and getting out without being caught. They both learned very quickly when the door was opened that someone would immediately be there to see who went through it.” —Sally Russell

Drowning prevention for adults

Besides learning how to swim, there are several other ways adults can stay safe while having fun.

Wear a life jacket

Besides learning how to swim, there are several other ways adults can stay safe while having fun.

Life jacket
Adult Universal USCG Approved Vest
Adult Universal USCG Approved Vest
$64.99
Pro Bullet U.S. Coast Guard Approved
Pro Bullet Heavy duty

Life jackets save lives, but your chances of survival are better if you make sure that your life jacket fits and won’t slip off or get in the way in an emergency. To make sure your life jacket fits, check the label to see if it will support your size and weight before purchasing it.

Also, for basic padded life jackets, you’ll need to put on the life jacket, fasten it, then hold your arms over your head. Get a friend to grab the armholes and pull up. If the jacket covers your chin or there is space between your shoulders and the top of the jacket, you’ll need to either tighten the straps or get a smaller life jacket.

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Go light

If a bulky vest isn’t for you, consider choosing an auto-inflatable vest. They are compact and will automatically inflate if you fall into the water. This guide by the US Coast Guard can help you choose the right life jacket or flotation device for your needs.

Avoid alcohol

Opt for a non-alcoholic beverage when you’re swimming, hanging out on the boat, or lounging around the pool. Alcohol usage is a factor in up to 70% of adolescent and adult water-recreation deaths.²

There are several reasons why alcohol and water don’t mix. It impairs your balance and coordination so you’re more likely to fall in and not be able to get back out. It also impairs judgment, so you’re more likely to do something risky.

Check your prescriptions

Some prescriptions increase the likelihood of drowning. Check with your doctor to see if your prescription may inhibit your motor skills or your ability to think clearly.

Drowning prevention for pets

It’s a myth that all cats and dogs can swim. They need supervision and protection, just like a young child. Here’s how to keep your pet safe:

  • Don’t leave pets alone around water where they can be submerged. 
  • Get your pet a flotation device for trips to the lake, beach, or swimming pool. 
  • Sign your dog up for swimming lessons or teach them how to swim.
  • Install a pet-safe ramp or swimming pool ladder so your pet can climb out if they fall in the water.

Drowning prevention FAQ

According to the CDC, there are 22 nonfatal drownings and 11 drowning deaths per day.²

Very! An estimated 236,000 people die each year worldwide from drowning.³ Even if they don’t die, drowning patients can suffer mental and physical impairments from lack of oxygen.

Children between the ages of one and four are most at-risk. Around 80% of people that die from drowning are male.²

The person is typically silent, with their mouths near the surface of the water. Their heads are tilted back as they try to gasp for air, and they may try to swim, but not get anywhere.

There are some other clues:

  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Glassy eyes
  • Arms out to the side
  • Hair over eyes
  • Making a climbing motion with arms and hands
  • Bobbing up and down

Secondary drowning, also called dry drowning, is when water is inhaled and causes breathing problems hours later. Coughing or trouble breathing for a prolonged time are signs that medical attention is needed.

Yes, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving rescue technique that can save someone’s life in a drowning situation. The American Red Cross offers CPR classes across the country.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. The YMCA, “Drowning Facts.” Accessed July 6, 2021.
  2. CDC, “Drowning Facts.” Accessed June 6, 2021.
  3. WHO, “Drowning.” Accessed June 6, 2021.
  4. University of Utah Health, “What Does Drowning Look Like?” Accessed June 6, 2021.
  5. Cleveland Clinic, “‘Dry Drowning’: Separating Fact From Fiction.” Accessed June 6, 2021.
  6. Journal of The American Academy Of Pediatrics, “Prevention of Drowning,” July 2021. Accessed July 12, 2021.

Disclaimer

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Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina has been reviewing the latest tech for more than a decade and has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. She specializes in smart home and security technology, working to make gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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