Water activities like swimming and boating are a fun way for kids to cool off in the hot summer months. But a child can drown in just a few inches of water, whether in buckets, bathtubs, pools or lakes. Ensure your kids' safety with multiple layers of protection from our Water Safety Guide.
The hard facts
Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death among children ages 1 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One out of five people who die from unintentional drowning are children age 14 or younger. Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. Among those 15 and older, more than half of drownings occur in natural water settings, such as lakes, rivers and oceans.
Secondary drowning occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs after a near-drowning accident. The term is gaining recognition because of a recent blog post from writer and mother Lindsay Kujawa, whose son, Ronin, almost drowned hours after being pulled out of a hot tub he fell into at a family pool party. Her warning: Death by drowning can still occur hours after a close call. Watch for troubled breathing, extreme fatigue or lethargy, coughing or sudden changes in behavior. If you notice any of these signs after a near-drowning, take your child to the emergency room immediately.
- Establish rules for your family. For example, teach kids to ask permission to go near water, and when they're in the water, have them stay close enough to make eye contact with you.
- Use the buddy system. Teach kids to always stay with a buddy and never play in the water alone.
- Check weather forecasts, and keep an eye on changing conditions. Water conducts electricity, including lightning, so get kids out of the tub, pool or lake if you hear or see a storm.
- Protect kids from the sun's harmful rays by applying sunblock and reapplying often. Hats, sunglasses and clothing provide added protection.
- Keep kids hydrated by having them drink plenty of water. Adding lemon or instant coconut powder provides electrolytes beneficial to hydration. Watch for signs of lightheadedness or nausea, which are symptoms of dehydration and overheating.
- Be careful with cool water, too. Being submerged in water can quickly lower body temperature, and kids lose body heat fast when they're using energy. Hypothermia, a condition where the body's core temperature drops below 95 degrees, affects normal body function and can lead to drowning. Signs of hypothermia include shivering and muscle cramping.
- Enroll kids in swimming lessons. Studies have shown that children ages 1 to 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction, according to the American Association of Pediatrics
- Never leave kids unattended. Supervising adults should be focused on the kids without distractions, such as reading, texting or visiting with other adults.
- Keep kids away from pool drains and suction fittings. These fixtures can create entrapments—when the force of the suction holds the body against the fitting or when an article of clothing, jewelry, hair or limb gets caught in the drain.
- Don't let kids hyperventilate. Kids often breathe rapidly or deeply before breath-holding and underwater swimming contests. This can lead to passing out and drowning, known as "shallow water blackout."
Beach best practices
- Direct kids to a designated, supervised area to swim, and teach them to stay within sight of a lifeguard or supervising adult.
- Check the water's depth before you let kids jump in, and make sure hidden rocks or other hazards aren't present.
- Check the surf. Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents. Some examples are water that is discolored, choppy, foamy or filled with debris, or moving in a channel away from shore. Undertows and big waves can be deadly, even for strong swimmers. Get free of a current by swimming parallel to shore; once free, swim diagonally toward shore.
- Teach kids the meanings of colored beach flags and to obey them. Coastal communities across the globe have adopted a flag-warning system developed by the United States Lifesaving Association in conjunction with the International Lifesaving Federation; however, the meanings of the colors and symbols may vary from one beach to another. If warning flags are up or if the surf looks rough, keep kids out of the water.
- Always equip kids with a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that fits properly. The jacket should be snug enough that it won't slip over the head, and the straps and buckles should be securely fastened. Inflatable toys and water wings, which can deflate or slip off, are not acceptable substitutes.
- Teach kids to stay away from propellers and not to jump off the front of a moving watercraft.
- Don't overload a boat. If it turns over, teach kids to stay with the boat until help arrives.
- Keep a radio on board to check weather reports.
- Beware of "boater's fatigue," when wind, noise, heat and the vibration of the boat combine to wear down kids when they're on the water.
- Store appropriate rescue items near the pool:
- A cordless or cell phone and numbers for local emergency services
- Reaching or throwing equipment, such as a shepherd's hook, safety ring and rope
- Easy-to-read CPR and first-aid instructions
- A first-aid kit with waterproof supplies, instant cold packs and emergency blankets
- Isolate the pool from the house and other play areas by surrounding it with a fence at least 4 feet high. The gate should be self-closing and self-latching, open outward and have high latches that are out of reach of children. For added security, use a lock and key. Eric Lupton, CEO of Life Saver Pool Fence, recommends a mesh pool safety fence, such as the one his company makes. "It's very transparent, aesthetically pleasing and easy to remove when entertaining only adults."
- Designate a person at pool parties as a "water watcher." Lupton suggests changing shifts every 15 minutes. "We offer lanyards and whistles to give to the person to denote them" as the current watcher," he says. For more on pool safety, download Life Saver Pool Fence's free e-book.
- Use "touch supervision" with young children, meaning you're close enough to reach them at all times.
- Teach kids to walk, not run, around pools or on docks, recommends Dr. Susan Tully, a pediatric emergency physician in Los Angeles.
- Discourage unsafe horseplay, such as pushing or holding others under water.
- Remove access ladders to aboveground pools, and secure safety covers when the pool isn't in use. Move other structures that provide access to the pool, such as outdoor furniture, garden trellises and playground equipment. "Lots of drownings happen because a parent didn't know that the child had figured out the doorknob," Lupton says. "So don't rely on the door being shut. Also, lots of children who drown got to the pool via a doggy door, so close them up if they access the pool."
- Consider adding an alarm. They prevent access or alert you if someone enters the pool area. Lupton's favorite is the Safety Turtle, which is worn on the child. "If the child falls into the pool, an alarm inside the house goes off."
- Remove toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use, so kids aren't tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised. Kids may fall in the water trying to retrieve toys.
- Idnetify water hazards elsewhere on your property. Irrigation ditches and water drainage systems create drowning dangers for small children. Keep toilet lids closed, and use toilet seat locks until kids are 3 years old. Don't leave young kids unattended in the bathtub. Keep laundry room and bathroom doors closed, and install latches on them.
Be prepared for an emergency
Take water safety, first aid and CPR/AED courses to become familiar with basic rescue and life-saving techniques and learn how to prevent and respond to emergencies. The sooner CPR is given, the greater the chance for survival. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone's life or reduce the risk of injury. Studies have shown that even CPR performed poorly can save a life.
The 2010 CPR Guidelines from the American Heart Association rearrange the A-B-Cs of CPR to focus on chest compressions and getting the blood flowing again—C-A-B. Current and proper training is available from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or your local hospital or fire department.