General Health & Wellness • Jun 30, 2010

Water Safety – Tips to Prevent Drowning

It’s that time of year, the sun shines high in the sky, the temperature soars, and what better way to have fun and cool off than to go swimming?  But in order to have the most fun in pools and other bodies of water, it is important to first be safe.

Drowning can occur in only a few minutes and in only minimal amounts of water.  In 2005, there were approximately 10 drowning deaths per day in the United States.  For every drowning there are 4 near-drownings that occur which are grave enough to require hospitalization.  These nonfatal submersions can lead to devastating long-term damage to the brain.  Many people think that these submersion events would be noisy; but this is not necessarily so.  Young children especially may only struggle minimally – this is why people cannot rely only on their sense of hearing to make sure their kids are safe; you have to always, always watch them.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death in children. Kids who are at highest risk for drowning are toddlers and adolescent boys.  Young children are more likely to drown in swimming pools and older kids are at higher risk for drowning in fresh water.  Alcohol use is a risk factor – it impairs judgment and coordination; 50% of adolescent drownings have alcohol involved in them.  Children with seizure disorders are also at increased risk for drowning.

Here are some tips to be as safe as possible in the water this summer.

Watch your children. 
Even with lifeguards and floating devices, nothing takes the place of close adult supervision. Keep distractions to a minimum so that your full attention can be on your child.  Do not drink alcoholic beverages when you are supervising children.  Young children should always be no more than a shoulder’s length away. 

Swimming lessons. 
You can begin lessons as early as 6 months of age, but at that time the purpose of them is to mainly get the child acquainted with water.  Usually young children (between 6 and 36 months) take swim lessons with a parent alongside them in the water.  At 4 years of age, children have developed the cognitive and physical skills needed for more formal and independent swimming lessons to begin.  Always keep young children who are not adept at swimming in the shallow end of the pool.  Swimming lessons are available at your local YMCA or regional recreational center. The NIH recently conducted a study that showed swimming lessons to be a protective factor against drowning. Learn how to swim yourself. 

Flotation skills. 
Children can usually become adept at back-floating long before they become great swimmers.  This technique can be life-saving. 

 Gates and fences.
For those with residential pools, the AAP recommends a 4-sided fence that separates the pool from the house.  Fencing should be at least 4 feet high and climb-resistant (not chain-link).  There should be no more than 4 inches between the fence and ground and between the vertical portions of the fence.  The gate attached to the fence should be self-latching and self-closing and open up away from the pool itself.  Pool covers or pool alarms are not a substitute for fencing. 

Learn CPR. 
This is a life-saving skill shown to improve outcomes in drowning victims and should be performed while paramedics are en route.    St. Louis Children’s Hospital offers classes on child and adult CPR. Click here for more information,or call 314.454.KIDS.

Clean up afterwards.
Once your time in the water is complete, remove all toys so that children are not tempted to go retrieve something from in the water.  Empty kiddie pools after use and after rainfall. 

Be prepared.
In case of an untoward event, always keep a cell phone or wireless phone near the pool when in use so that emergency services can be easily contacted.  Always have a life preserver available poolside.

Choose wisely.
Check the news reports for inclement weather before heading out to the beach.  Try and frequent neighborhood pools where lifeguards are present (nothing replaces your watchful eyes, but an extra set certainly doesn’t hurt).

Feet first. 
When going into any body of water for the first time, children should be taught to go in feet first.  This allows you to test the depth of the water and to check for any underwater hazards.

No swimming alone
Older children should always “buddy up” so they never swim alone.

Make rules to follow and post them where they can be seen.
No running poolside.  No jumping or pushing others when in the pool or poolside.

Check in with the lifeguard.  When at the beach, always check in with the lifeguard prior to going into the water.  They will be abreast of any weather changes/tide changes and can inform you if it safe to go out in the water or not.  Always swim where they can see you, in areas clearly marked for swimmers to use.

Wear a life vest when boating. 
50% of drownings while boating occur in people not wearing life jackets.

Let’s also briefly touch on the fact that most children less than a year of age drown not in pools but in other bodies of water, commonly found in the house including bathtubs, toilets, and buckets of water.  Toilet lids should always be closed and young toddlers should always be supervised in the bathroom.  They should not be left alone in a bathtub, even for short amounts of time (like to run and answer a ringing telephone).  Infant bath seats or “supporting” products should not be used as substitutes for an adult’s watchful eye.   Babies can drown in as little as one inch of wate, and all buckets or containers should be emptied once cleaning is finished.

Swimming and other water activities are fun.  I hope with the above tips you can keep your children safe and happy while in the water this summer.  If you have any other tips to add, please send them in!