Article at a Glance

  • Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death for children 1 to 4 years old, and ranks third for children 19 and under.
  • Protect your children by watching them constantly whenever they are around any type of water.
  • Learning CPR will help you know what to do if there is an emergency.

During the summer playing in the water is a fun way to get exercise and cool off. But water can also be dangerous. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death for children 1 to 4 years old, and ranks third for children 19 and under. Be sure your children stay safe this summer by keeping a close eye on them and teaching them how to be careful when they are in or around water. Here are some helpful tips.

General rules of thumb

  • Watch children constantly when they are around water of any kind. Do not become distracted for even a few seconds. Even if your child has taken swim lessons or is using a flotation device, there is still a risk of drowning.
  • When people are drowning they don’t scream or thrash around like what you see in the movies. When drowning, your body’s first instinct is to focus on breathing and to keep your head above water. This means that there isn’t any extra energy for yelling or signaling for help. When people drown, their faces usually silently bob up and down above the water before they go under. It can be easy to miss that a child is in danger unless you are watching closely. (Read more about drowning)
  • For younger children, it is important to provide “touch supervision.” This means that you are close enough to touch your child at all times.
  • Take a cordless or mobile phone with you when your children are playing in or around water. Seconds can make the difference between life and death, so call for help right away if there is an accident.
  • Be aware of the water hazards in your home and neighborhood. Even a bucket can be dangerous — small children can drown in less than two inches of water.
  • Never leave a young child alone in the bathroom. Keep hair dryers and other appliances out of reach. Turn your water heater down to 120° Fahrenheit to prevent burns.
  • Learn how to swim and make sure children older than four years old learn too.
  • You and any caregivers should learn CPR.
  • Purchase and use Coast Guard-approved flotation devices (life vests) that properly fit your child. Check labels to make sure the vest is age appropriate. Products like inflatable vests and water wings do not effectively protect against drowning.
  • Teach your children proper behavior around water.
    1. Don’t push, run, or dive in areas not marked for diving.
    2. Don’t swim in bad weather, especially when there is lighting.
    3. Contact a lifeguard or adult if there is an emergency.
    4. Don’t ever swim alone; use the buddy system.

Tips for pools and hot tubs

  • Children can become dangerously overheated in hot tubs, so it is best for them not to use them.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says a self-closing pool fence provides the best protection against drowning. Pool covers do not offer adequate protection because children can easily become trapped underneath.
  • Don’t leave toys in the pool — children have drowned trying to retrieve toys from the pool.
  • Children with diarrhea or a gastrointestinal illness should be kept out of the pool while sick and for two weeks afterward.
  • Children who are potty trained should take frequent bathroom breaks.

Tips for lakes and ponds

  • Be careful when wading out from the shore — the depth of the lake can often increase sharply.
  • Lakes frequently contain broken glass, trash, and sharp rocks, so wear protective foot gear and be extra careful.
  • Watch for weeds and grass — they can trap a leg or arm.
  • Most boating accidents are related to alcohol. Be sure to assign a designated driver when boating.

Tips for the beach

  • Never swim if there isn’t a lifeguard on duty.
  • Be aware of currents and tides by asking the lifeguard about water conditions. Don’t swim in large waves or undertows, and stay away from piers or pilings.
  • If caught in a rip current or undertow, swim parallel to the shore or tread water. Don’t swim against the current. Call for a lifeguard’s help.
  • Never turn your back to the water; an unexpected wave can easily knock you over.
  • Avoid jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-wars — their stings can be painful.

Tips for water parks

  • Make sure the water park employs qualified lifeguards.
  • Be sure to observe age, height, weight, or health requirements for rides, and that the ride is age appropriate.
  • Make sure your children always go down the water slide feet first and face up.

Special tips for babies

  • Babies are more susceptible to catching diseases in the water, so dry their ears carefully and wash their bodies with mild soap to remove any chemicals or other things they may have picked up in the water.
  • Babies lose body heat faster than adults, so don’t allow your baby to swim in water under 85° Fahrenheit.
  • Leaky diapers can release parasites and other diseases into the pool. Your best bet is to keep children out of public pools until they are toilet trained. However, if your baby does go into the water use waterproof diapers and change them frequently. Make sure you change the diapers away from the pool and wash your child well.

What to do in an emergency

  • If a child goes missing, always check the water first.
  • If the child is in the water, remove the child from the water and call loudly for help. If somebody else is there, have them call 911.
  • Check to see if the child is breathing, if not, start CPR immediately.
  • If the child still isn’t breathing after performing about two minutes of CPR, call 911 if somebody hasn’t already. Continue to perform CPR.
  • If the child starts breathing, lay the child on his or her side so that the airway stays open. Call 911 and follow any instructions.
  • If the child has a neck injury, keep the child on his or her back and be careful not to let them move until trained help arrives.

For more information:

Water Safety (

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