Drowning Prevention

Image of a happy man teaching a child to swim
Drowning is a major public health issue that can be prevented.
  • More children ages 1–4 die from drowning than any other cause of death except birth defects.
  • Drowning happens in seconds and is often silent.
  • Drowning can happen to anyone, any time there is access to water.
Image of a happy woman and child in a swimming pool.
You can prevent drowning.
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Learn basic swimming and water safety skills

Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning.1-5 Children who have had swimming lessons still need close and constant supervision when in or around water.

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Build fences that fully enclose pools

Construct and use a four-sided fence that fully encloses the pool and separates it from the house, with self-closing and self-latching gatesexternal icon. Also, remove all toys from the pool area that might attract children to the pool.

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Supervise closely

Designate a responsible adult to supervise closely and constantly when children are in or near water (including bathtubs). You can assign a specific adult to supervise each child when they have access to water. Adults watching kids in or near water should avoid distracting activities like reading, using the phone, and consuming alcohol or drugs, because drowning happens quickly and quietly.1,6 After swim time is over, shut and lock doors that give access to water. Be proactive and learn about any risks when visiting another home or unfamiliar location.

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Wear a life jacket

Life jackets reduce the risk of drowning while boating for people of all ages and swimming abilities. Life jackets should be used by children for all activities while in and around natural water. Life jackets can also be used by weaker swimmers of all ages in and around natural water and swimming pools. Do not rely on air-filled or foam toys, as these are not safety devices.1,7

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Learn CPR

Your CPR skills could save someone’s life in the time it takes for paramedics to arrive. Many organizations such as American Red Crossexternal icon and American Heart Associationexternal icon offer CPR training courses, both online and in-person.

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Know the risks of natural waters

Lakes, rivers, and oceans have hidden hazards such as dangerous currents or waves, rocks or vegetation, and limited visibility.8 Check the forecast before activities in, on, or near water. Local weather conditions can change quickly and cause dangerous flash floods, strong winds, and thunderstorms with lightning strikes.

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Avoid alcohol

Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or other water activities. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, and coordination.9

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Use the buddy system

Always swim with a buddy. Choose swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible. The buddy system is especially beneficial for people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions that increase their risk of drowning.1

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Take additional precautions for medical conditions

Provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools, if you or a family member has a seizure disorder. Consider taking showers rather than using a bathtub for bathing. Wear life jackets when boating. Other medical conditions such as autism or heart conditions are also associated with a higher risk of drowning.1,10-12

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Consider the effects of medications

Avoid swimming if you take medications that impair your balance, coordination, or judgement. These side effects increase the risk of drowning. Several medications can produce these side effects, such as those used for anxiety and other mental health conditions.13

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Don’t hyperventilate or hold your breath for a long time

Do not let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out and drown. This is sometimes called “hypoxic blackout” or “shallow water blackout”.14

More Prevention Resources
  • Water Safety USAexternal icon is a roundtable of longstanding national nonprofit and governmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs, including public education.
  • Safe Kids Worldwideexternal icon is a nonprofit organization working to help families and communities keep kids safe from injuries, including drowning.
  • The YMCA is a nonprofit that focuses on strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. See their drowning prevention page for tips about how to be safe around waterexternal icon.
  • Healthychildren.orgexternal icon, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), contains helpful information for parents on many topics, including water safety adviceexternal icon. Resources in Spanish are included.
  • The Drowning Chain of Survivalexternal icon is composed of five steps that can help to guide the prevention of drowning, as well as rescue and recovery when a drowning incident occurs.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more detailed information about prevention of drowning in the AAP 2019 Policy Statementexternal icon.
References
    1. Denny SA, Quan L, Gilchrist J, McCallin T, Shenoi R, Yusuf S, Hoffman B, Weiss J. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Policy Statement – Prevention of Drowningexternal icon. Pediatrics 2019;143(5): e20190850.
    2. Brenner RA, Taneja GS, Haynie DL, Trumble AC, Qian C, Klinger RM, Klevanoff MA. Association between swimming lessons and drowning in childhood: A case-control studyexternal icon. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2009;163(3):203–210.
    3. Yang L, Nong QQ, Li CL, Feng QM, Lo SK. Risk factors for childhood drowning in rural regions of a developing country: a case–control studyexternal icon. Injury Prevention 2007;13(3):178–182.
    4. Petrass LA, Blitvich JD. Preventing adolescent drowning: Understanding water safety knowledge, attitudes and swimming ability. The effect of a short water safety interventionexternal icon. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2014;70:188–194.
    5. Wallis BA, Watt K, Franklin RC, Taylor M, Nixon JW, Kimble RM. Interventions associated with drowning prevention in children and adolescents: systematic literature reviewexternal icon. Injury Prevention 2015;21:195–204.
    6. Moran K, Stanley T. Toddler drowning prevention: Teaching parents about water safety in conjunction with their child’s in-water lessonsexternal icon. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion 2006;14(4):254–256.
    7. Cummings P, Mueller BA, Quan L. Association between wearing a personal floatation device and death by drowning among recreational boaters: a matched cohort analysis of United States Coast Guard dataexternal icon. Injury Prevention 2011;17(3):156–159.
    8. Mackay JM, Samuel E, Green A. Hidden Hazards: An Exploration of Open Water Drowning and Risks for Children. Safe Kids Worldwide 2018 [online]. Available at: https://www.safekids.org/research-report/hidden-hazards-exploration-open-water-drowning-and-risks-kidsexternal icon. Accessed 4 May 2021.
    9. Driscoll TR, Harrison JA, Steenkamp M. Review of the role of alcohol in drowning associated with recreational aquatic activityexternal icon. Injury Prevention 2004;10(2):107–113.
    10. Guan J, Li G. Injury Mortality in Individuals with Autismexternal icon. American Journal of Public Health 2017;107(5):791–793.
    11. Guan J, Li G. Characteristics of unintentional drowning deaths in children with autism spectrum disorderexternal icon. Injury Epidemiology 2017;4(32):1–4.
    12. Semple-Hess J, Campwala R. Pediatric submersion injuries: emergency care and resuscitationexternal icon. Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice 2014;11(6)1–22.
    13. Pajunen T, Vuori E, Vincenzi FF, Lillsunde P, Smith G, Lunetta P. Unintentional drowning: Role of medicinal drugs and alcoholexternal icon. BMC Public Health 2017;17(388):1–10.
    14. Pearn JH, Franklin RC, Peden AE. Hypoxic blackout: diagnosis, risks, and preventionexternal icon. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. 2015;9(3):9.