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Water Safety


Why Is Water Safety Important?

Water safety isn't just about keeping kids safe in the pool. Bathroom water safety is also important. And things you might not think about — like catchment ponds, drainage ditches and runoff areas in your neighborhood — can be a hazard.

Drowning Facts

In the U.S.:

  • Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death in children, especially those younger than 4 and teens.
  • Most kids with nonfatal drowning injuries need emergency room care. Half of them will need further care, often in a hospital.
  • Surviving a drowning can leave someone with severe brain damage — 5%-10% of childhood drowning cases result in long-term disability, such as persistent vegetative state or quadriplegia (the loss of use of all four limbs and torso).

How kids drown varies by age:

  • Under age 1: Babies most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, and toilets. 
  • 1–4 years old: Young children most often drown in swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas.
  • Older kids, teens, and young adults: Most drownings in these age groups happen in natural bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers.

So it's important for parents to know about how to protect kids, avoid risks, and respond in an emergency.

Water Safety Basics

Supervision is rule #1. Kids must be watched whenever they're around water. This is true whether the water is in a bathtub, a wading pool, an ornamental fish pond, a swimming pool, a spa, an ocean, or a lake.

Young children are especially at risk. They can drown in less than 2 inches (6 centimeters) of water. That means drowning can happen in a sink, toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home, such as ditches filled with rainwater.

Always watch children closely when they're in or near any water, no matter what their swimming skills. Even kids who know how to swim can be at risk for drowning. For instance, a child could slip and fall on the pool deck, lose consciousness, and fall into the pool and possibly drown.

Young kids and weak swimmers should have an adult swimmer within arm's reach to provide "touch supervision."

Swimming lessons. Kids over 4 years old should learn how to swim. Check local recreation centers for classes taught by a qualified instructor. Younger kids also can benefit from lessons. They won't yet learn to swim, but these can help them start to learn about water safety. And if you don't know how to swim, consider taking lessons.

You also can search online for classes:

Learn more about how to keep your kids safe in and on the water — whether they're in the bathtub, on a boat, in your backyard pool, or out and about.

Bathroom Water Safety

  • Find out how to keep young kids safe in and around the tub.

Pool Safety

  • Think safety if you have a a pool, pond, spa, or hot tub on your property.

Water Safety Outdoors

What to Do in an Emergency

If a child is missing, always check the pool or other body of water first. Survival depends on a quick rescue and restarting breathing as soon as possible:

  • If you find a child in the water, get the child out while calling loudly for help. If someone else is nearby, have them call 911. 
  • Check to make sure the child's air passages are clear. If the child is not breathing, start CPR if you are trained to do so. Follow the instructions the 911 emergency operator gives.
  • If you think the child has a neck injury, such as from diving:
    • Keep the child on his or her back.
    • Brace the neck and shoulders with your hands and forearms to help keep the neck from moving until emergency help arrives. This can help prevent further injury to the spine.
    • Keep the child still and speak in calm tones to keep the child comforted.
Reviewed by: Sarah K. Romero, MD
Date reviewed: May 2019