Swim Safety for Kids

by Dana Sullivan

Swim Safety for Kids

Learn about beach and swimming pool hazards and how to keep your kid safe by the water

Swimming is a big part of what makes summer fun. But parents need to know that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death for children under 15. Deep water in pools, rivers, lakes, and the ocean poses the most obvious danger, but any body of water is hazardous to a young child  — including hot tubs, fountains, small streams, ponds, and wells.


How to Revive a Child

Remember the ABC's of lifesaving  — Airway, Breathing, Circulation  — to help guide you through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).* CPR can save a child's life and reduce the risk of injury in near-drowning accidents. The sooner CPR is given, the greater a victim's chance of survival. Continue revival attempts until emergency help arrives.


1. If you find an unconscious or unresponsive child in or near water, have someone call 911. If you are alone, call 911 after attempting revival for one minute; then resume attempts.

2. If possible, start giving breaths immediately, even as you try to move the child to dry land. Whether or not the child is breathing, this will not hurt her.

3. Lay the child faceup on a firm surface. Tilt her head back slightly and lift her chin to open the airway. (If you suspect she dove into shallow water and has a spinal injury, try to open the airway by lifting her chin without tilting the head. Kneel behind her, place your index fingers behind her ears, slide them down to the jaw, then gently push up to thrust the jaw forward. Use your other fingers to keep neck stable.) Look, listen, and feel for breaths.


4. If you don't detect breathing, seal your lips around the child's mouth and pinch his nostrils shut.

5. Give two slow breaths (about 1 1/2 seconds each). The chest should rise; if it doesn't, reposition the child's head, extending his neck. Make sure you have a tight seal with your mouth. If the breaths do not go in, give up to five abdominal thrusts until the airway clears. To do this, straddle the child's legs. Position your hands just above the belly button with fingers pointed toward his head. Press into the abdomen with quick, upward thrusts.


6. Check for a pulse on the neck beneath the jaw.

If you feel a pulse: Continue giving one breath every three seconds. Remove your mouth between breaths. After one minute, check for a pulse again. If you continue to feel a pulse, continue the breathing pattern, checking for a pulse every minute.

If you don't feel a pulse: Begin CPR. With the child still lying faceup on a firm surface, imagine a line between his nipples. Use the heel of your hand to give compressions and increase the depth of compressions to 1 1/2 inches. Repeat cycle of five compressions to one slow breath. After one minute, check for a pulse. Continue the compression and breathing cycles, checking for a pulse every two minutes.

Sources: The American Red Cross; American Academy of Pediatrics; Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

*This guide is not meant to be a substitute for proper CPR training, which is available from the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or your local hospital or fire department.

Swimming Smart

Swimming lessons don't safeguard a child in the water. Even one who knows how to swim can drown a few feet from safety if he gets confused or scared. Teach water safety by setting a good example. Swimmers of all ages should follow these rules:

  • Never swim alone or without adult supervision.
  • Don't dive into water unless you know that it's at least nine feet deep. When in doubt, go feet first.
  • Walk, don't run, around pools or on docks.
  • Refrain from pushing another person into water or holding him under water.
  • Always wear a life jacket when swimming, fishing, inner tubing, or playing in a river or stream.
  • Warn children not to cry for help unless it's an emergency.
  • Watch the weather. Water conducts electricity, so stop swimming or boating as soon as you see or hear a storm.
  • Avoid swimming near boats or watercraft with propellers.
  • Stop children who cannot swim from using blow-up toys or mattresses unsupervised or in water that is more than waist-deep for them. These devices can make nonswimmers feel overly confident. They're dangerous if deflated or if the kid slips out or off them.
  • Make sure your child is supervised by a qualified adult whenever he water-skis or snorkels.
  • Tune in to the "dangerous too's": too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun and activity.


Beach Security
  • Warn kids never to go into the water without first telling an adult.
  • Swim in a supervised area, within sight of a lifeguard. That includes parents.
  • Check the surf. Undertows and big waves can be deadly, even for strong swimmers. If warning flags are up, or if the surf looks rough, always stay out of the water.
  • Never try to swim against the current if you get caught in one. Swim at an angle to cross the current, heading toward shore.
  • Don't swim near piers, pilings, diving platforms, in boat lanes, around anchored boats, or where people are water-skiing.


Basic Boating Precautions

In 1998, less than a quarter of the children 14 years and younger who drowned in boating accidents were wearing life jackets. Every person on any type of boat (sailboat, motorboat, canoe, kayak, raft, etc.) should wear a properly fitting life jacket at all times. The jacket should not be loose enough to slip over the head, and straps and buckles should be securely fastened.

  • Make sure that the label says the life jacket meets the safety requirements of the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Teach your child how to put on his own life jacket, and be certain that he knows how to use it.
  • Don't use blow-up "water wings," ring-shaped toys, rafts, and air mattresses as life preservers. They are not substitutes for life jackets.


Pool Musts

If you have a pool, it's essential that your kids  — and you  — know how to swim. Be familiar with basic lifesaving techniques. Contact the American Red Cross ( or your local YMCA ( for information about swimming lessons and lifesaving classes.

Here's how to keep your children, and your neighbors' kids, safe:

  • Surround the pool by a fence at least five feet high that completely separates the pool from the house and play areas of the yard.
  • The fence should have vertical bars, and its gate should be self-closing and self-locking with the latch at the top so small children can't reach it. For added security, use a lock and key.
  • Move toys, tricycles, wagons, and balls away from the pool's edge. Youngsters may attempt to retrieve toys that fall into the water and fall in themselves.
  • Store appropriate rescue and safety items near the pool, including:
    1. A telephone and the phone numbers for local emergency services.
    2. Easy-to-read safety and CPR instructions.
    3. A shepherd's hook, safety ring, and rope.