12 water safety tips

The water can (and should) be fun in any season, whether you’re headed to an indoor or outdoor pool or bound for the beach. But drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1 to 4 than any cause except congenital disabilities. Injuries from water submersion are several times higher. 

Here are 12 need-to-know tips for enjoying the water—safely:

1. “Touch supervision” matters.

Never leave your child alone around water. For any child who’s under age 5 or not a skilled swimmer, use “touch supervision,” remaining within an arm’s length of your child.

2. If a child is missing, check the pool first. 

A quick response is essential since drowning can occur in just 20 seconds. Even a “kiddie” or “wading” pool with a few inches of water can be dangerous for a toddler.  

3. If you own a pool, create “barriers.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages homeowners to isolate any pool from the house, fencing it in all the way around. Have smooth fence (not chain-link, which a child can climb) installed around all sides of even an above-ground pool.

4. Consider other safety devices. 

Pool covers add a layer of protection, and surface wave or underwater alarms can alert pool owners when a child enters the water unsupervised. Keep a fiberglass shepherd’s hook and a life preserver poolside.  

5. Make sure someone is always watching the children.

Don’t assume someone else is doing this; make it an assigned task. 

6. Be alert for entrapment risks.

Always check pools for missing, broken, or improper drain covers, which may create suction and trap a swimmer underwater, leading to serious injury or even death. To break suction, turn off the pump; or insert fingers between your child’s body and the drain, and roll her away or pull her off sideways. Entrapments may happen due to entanglement of a swimmer’s clothing, jewelry, or hair in the drain. 

7. Skip the “floaties.”

So-called “water wings” may be cute, but they don’t help children stay afloat. Look instead for life vests that have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. For toddlers, some “flotation swimwear” does meet this standard. Make sure your child uses a flotation device at all times when on a boat or near a body of water. Wear a life jacket as well, for your own safety and to serve as a role model. 

8. Choose beaches and pools with lifeguards.

Swim only in designated areas. Make sure your child doesn’t dive in any area unless it has been checked for depth and safety by an adult. . 

9. Consider swim lessons for your child.

For children ages 1 to 4, successfully completing swim lessons may reduce the risk of drowning. However, don’t assume that swim lessons make your child water-safe; they can’t replace other safe strategies. 

10. Take a CPR class. 

Ask your child’s pediatrician for resources in your area. The Red Cross teaches courses in CPR, first aid, lifeguarding, and more at locations across the U.S.

11. Know the signs of drowning.

Drowning is often a silent occurrence, without shouting or splashing. Signs of drowning include the following: head low in water, with mouth at water level; head tilted back, with mouth open; eyes glassy, unfocused, or closed; hair over forehead or eyes; vertical alignment without using legs; hyperventilation or gasping; appearing to climb an invisible ladder; pressing arms against surface of water; swimming without making progress; and trying to roll over onto back. 

12. Know the signs of “dry drowning.”

Dry drowning is a delayed reaction to a small amount of water in the lungs. It occurs after immersion in water—usually between 1 and 24 hours later. Signs to watch for include persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, or lethargy. Without immediate treatment, the condition can lead to respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, and eventually brain death. 

Click here for more summer safety tips and here for advice on child swim lessons.

Last updated December 27, 2020

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