Tips for staying safe near water this summer

As we head into the summer, I thought I would share with you some tips for staying safe near the water this summer.  Here are some statistics to think about.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • There are 4,000 unintentional fatal drownings every year in the U.S.
  • There are 8,000 unintentional non-fatal drownings every year in the U.S.
    • Nearly 40% of non-fatal drownings treated in the emergency departments require further hospitalization
  • More kids in the 1-4 years old age range die from drowning than any other cause of death

Drowning is one of the most common forms of unintentional deaths amongst kids and teens in the U.S. With the right preparation and training, we can help prevent accidental drowning.

Who is Most at Risk for Drowning?

Children ages 1-4

Kids between the ages of 1-4 are more likely than any other age group to drown. With this age group, drowning is most common when the child was not expected to be near water. This includes children gaining access to an unsupervised pool. In fact, home swimming pools are the most common drowning site for kids ages 1-4.

Older teens and adults

In the 15-year-old and older group, most drownings occur in natural water settings (lakes, rivers, oceans, etc.). Moreso, around 80% of young adults and adults who die from drowning are male. Why might this be? Many of these drownings are connected to alcohol and high-risk activities. If you have a teen at home, I highly encourage you to share this article with them as we approach summer.

Non-Age-Related Risk Factors

People with certain medical conditions like seizures, autism or a heart condition are also at an increased risk for unintentional drowning. For people with a seizure disorder, the bathtub is the most common site for unintentional drowning. If a loved one suffers from a medical condition where they may lose control of their body or may not be able to safely care for themselves in a stressful situation, be sure to pay extra attention when they are near water.

Prevention is Key to Avoiding Drowning

So how do we make our environment safer and reduce the risk of drowning? Have a layered approach to water safety. This means:

  1. Have multiple safety steps in place to avoid accidents before they happen.
  2. Educate yourself and your children on how to stay safe in and around water.

Here are some tips from CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website (, and AAP patient education handouts.

Swim Lessons

It is never too early to get your child into swim lessons! You can find local swim lessons for kids starting at 4-6 months. At this early age, lessons are for both baby and parent and are focused on getting your little one comfortable in the water. As your child gets a little older, typically pre-school age, lessons should include basic swimming skills and water safety.

Home Pool

  • Fences:
    • The best option for securing a home pool is to install a fence that is at least 4 feet tall around all 4 sides of the pool. Ideally, this fence is not connected to the house. The gate to the pool should open out from the pool and have a self-close and self-latch that children can’t reach. Why is this important? Just as it is important to keep animals or neighbors out of your pool, you also need to protect your own pets and children from entering the pool without your knowledge.
    • If your pool is fenced in, but not separate from the house, install a secondary fence or net around all four sides of the pool. There are many designs and options available. No matter what, be sure that your pool is secured at all times.
  • Make sure your back door facing the pool has an alarm that will make noise when opened. Consider having locks adjusted to a height that cannot be reached by young children.
  • Children can be tricky and fast, so think about installing window guards on windows facing the pool. Reconsider pet doors that have access to the pool.
  • Make sure you have rescue equipment nearby. Consider equipment that is made of fiberglass or another material that does not conduct electricity.
  • Have life jackets that fit each of your children based on their size and age, as recommended by U.S. Coast Guard and tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Remember, “floaties” are not a substitute for life jackets. They can create a false sense of security.


Learning to dive is exciting for a kid. However, diving in shallow areas can result in major injuries like neck/spinal cord injuries, head trauma, and potential life-long disability. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you talk with your child about diving safety:

  • Never dive in shallow water! Teach your kids to recognize when water is shallow or deep. It may be easier to see how deep the water is in in a pool, but you often can’t see the bottom of open water. When jumping in the water for the first time, always enter feet first.
  • Avoid diving into aboveground pools.
  • Avoid diving through inner tubes or other pool toys.

Water Safety in the Open Water

  • Never swim without adult supervision. No matter how old you are or how good of a swimmer you may be, it is always a good idea to have at least one person with you when swimming in open water.
  • Never dive into water unless you know how deep it is. For kids, they should know not to dive into a pool unless an adult says it is safe.
  • When boating, riding on a personal watercraft, fishing, waterskiing or playing in a river or stream, wear an approved personal flotation device (life jacket or life vest). This is important for both kids and adults. Water wings and other blow-up swimming aids (“floaties”) should not be used in place of life jackets.
  • Never try water sports such as skiing, scuba diving or snorkeling without instructions from a qualified teacher.
  • Never swim around anchored boats, in motorboat lanes, or where people are waterskiing.
  • Never swim during electrical storms.
  • If you swim or drift far from shore, stay calm and tread water, or float on your back until help arrives.
  • Teach your child to know their limits:
    • When they are too tired
    • When they are too cold
    • When they are too far from safety
    • When they have had too much sun
    • When they have had too much hard activity

Exceeding these limitations can set them up for danger.

Aside from lakes, rivers and ponds, other water hazards you may find around your house include canals, ditches, postholes, wells, fishponds and fountains. Watch your child closely if they are playing near any of these areas!

Life Jackets and Life Preserves

  • Always have a life preserver if you are in open water. This may seem obvious for kids, but it is important for adults too. I personally swam in college, and I still find that wearing a life vest while in a lake makes it easier for me to rescue a child in trouble.
  • Have your child wear a life jacket that is approved by the U. S. Coast Guard and was tested by the Underwriter Laboratories (UL). In addition, the jacket should fit for your child’s weight and age.
  • Teach your child how to put on a life jacket correctly.
  • Remember that “floaties” do not replace life jackets. This includes blow-up wings, rafts, noodles or air mattresses.

Water Safety Around the House

  • Never leave an infant or young child alone in the bathtub. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye!
  • Empty large buckets of water when you are done with a project. Infants and toddlers can fit their heads in the buckets and stay stuck.
  • Consider bathroom doorknob locks or covers. Young children could wander into the bathroom and run the bathwater without adult supervision.
  • Consider getting a toilet lid latch so toddlers don’t play with the toilet water. Toddlers could stick their heads in the toilet and get stuck.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

  • Learn how to perform CPR. For all the technology we have in the intensive care units, the two bigger variables in helping a child survive a near-drowning event are:
    • Reducing the time the victim is under water.
    • Being ready and able to perform CPR when the victim is rescued from the water.

CPR classes are available throughout the community. Check as well as the local YMCAs and the American Red Cross.

If you are in an emergency, remember to dial 911 as soon as the drowning victim is pulled from the water.

(This article was originally published on May 25, 2023 at Bronson’s web page)


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