Pediatrics | Published July 21, 2020 | Written by Craig Collison, MD, pediatrician, Mount Nittany Physician Group Family Medicine

Pool safety and drowning prevention tips

With summer in full swing, families are heading to the pool to stay cool and entertain the kids. Ensuring the safety of children at the pool is a huge responsibility. It only takes seconds for a child to drown. With drowning as the leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 4 years, and the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among children ages 1 to 14 years, it is essential to be extra cautious with children at or near the water.

Whether you are headed to the pool in your backyard or your local pool in the community, you should consider the following pool safety tips to help you and your family stay safe.

  • Secure a home pool with appropriate barriers, covers and alarms. Install a four-sided fence that has a self-closing and self-latching gate that is out of reach of a child. For pools that are above ground, make sure to secure, lock or remove any ladders or steps used to access the pool. Other barriers you can install include lockable covers, as well as, door alarms and locks on doors and windows directly accessing the pool area.
  • Don’t leave a child unattended in or near water, even if there are lifeguards.
  • No one should swim alone. Always swim with a buddy.
  • Designate an adult as the water watcher to supervise children in the water. The designated water watcher should keep a phone close by in case of an emergency. There should be a designated water watcher even if there is a lifeguard, because lifeguards may not be able to see the entire pool and their views can be blocked by other patrons. If you notice a child is missing, make sure to check the water first.
  • Avoid any distractions, such as your cell phone or reading, when supervising children around water.
  • Know the signs of when someone is in trouble or drowning. Drowning rarely involves splashing, flailing or yelling for help, instead drowning happens quickly and silently. It’s important to supervise carefully and intervene when a child may be even slightly in trouble. Signs of drowning include:
    • Person is vertical in the water and unable to move.
    • Person is not making any forward progress in the water.
    • Person is face down in the water and motionless.
  • Teach your child how to swim. Swimming is an important lifesaving skill that every member of your family should know. There are many swimming lessons available, such as at your local YMCA or Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Children and inexperienced swimmers should wear Coast Guard approved life jackets in and around water.
  • Teach children to stay away from drains or suction outlets to avoid entrapment hazards. Hair, limbs, bathing suits or jewelry can get stuck in drains and suction outlets causing children and even adults to become trapped underwater.
  • Learn how to perform CPR and make sure to keep your CPR certification current. To find CPR classes near you, you can use the course locator tools that are available on the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross websites.
  • Teach children to ask permission before they go near water.
  • Enter the water feet first. Never dive into the shallow end of a pool or into an above-ground pool.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15 and limiting the amount of direct sunlight you receive.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, remember to practice everyday precautions, such as wearing a mask when out of the water only (do not wear a face mask in the water, this can obstruct your breathing), practicing social distancing and following proper hand hygiene practices by washing your hands or using hand sanitizer.

Teaching your children about water safety and the dangers of being in or near water is important even if you are not planning to visit the pool. Drowning often happens when children are not expected to be near water. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 69 percent of the children who were found drowned or submerged in the pool were not expected to be at or in the pool. For more information on water safety and drowning prevention, you can visit the Water Safety page on the American Red Cross website.