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Summer Safety Tips: Drowning Prevention

By Justin Haagen on May 16, 2024

Summer Safety Tips: Drowning Prevention

Drowning remains a critical public health issue worldwide, affecting individuals of all ages. In the United States alone, there are about 4,000 deaths and 8,000 emergency department visits for nonfatal drownings each year. Despite its prevalence, drowning is preventable.


Here are some of the top drowning prevention tips to keep in mind for the summer months and year-round.

Understanding the risk of drowning

Although drowning can happen to anyone when there’s access to water, young children are particularly vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of death among children under age four. For children ages five to 14, drowning remains one of the leading causes of death, following motor vehicle crashes.

Let’s look at some additional drowning data to better understand the risk of drowning:

  • There are an average of 11 drowning deaths and 22 nonfatal drownings per day in the United States.
  • For every child under the age of 18 who dies from drowning, another seven receive emergency department care for nonfatal drowning.
  • Nearly 40% of ER-treated drownings require hospitalization or transfer for further care.

Nonfatal drownings can cause serious health problems, including brain damage and long-term disability.

Who is at higher risk of drowning?

Drowning can occur in various water environments, including pools, hot tubs, open water bodies, and even small containers like buckets of water. For young children, in particular, unsupervised access to water, even in shallow depths, poses a significant risk.

Based on CDC data, other individuals at higher risk include:

  • Males. Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male. This might be attributed to increased exposure to water, risk-taking behaviors and alcohol use.
  • People with medical conditions. Individuals with seizure disorders (e.g., epilepsy) are at higher risk of drowning, with the most common site of drowning being the bathtub. Other medical conditions, such as autism and heart conditions, can also increase the risk of drowning.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Having inadequate barriers. Pools should be equipped with self-latching gates and proper pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access, especially in home pool settings. A four-sided fence that separates the pool area from the house and yard reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83%.
  • Lack of adult supervision. Responsible adult supervision is crucial whenever children are near water. Two-thirds of infant drownings occur in bathtubs, while drownings for ages one to four most often happen in swimming pools. For older children, 40% happen in natural water (e.g., lakes, rivers or oceans) and 30% in swimming pools.
  • Drinking alcohol. Alcohol impairs judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of drowning for both adults and children. Alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of drowning deaths associated with water recreation activities. It's essential for adults to avoid alcohol consumption when supervising children around water.

Additionally, certain drugs and prescription medications can increase the risk of drowning as side effects can be similar to the effects of alcohol.

Drowning prevention tips for children and adults

Drowning isn't typically like what’s shown in the movies where the victim is flailing around, yelling for help. In fact, it's often silent and can happen within a matter of seconds. Therefore, drowning prevention requires a multi-faceted approach involving education and public awareness, as well as modifications to make a safe swimming environment.

Here are some effective strategies and summer safety tips:

  1. Take formal swimming lessons. Swimming lessons can significantly reduce the risk of drowning, especially among young children and adults who are weak swimmers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting swim lessons as early as age one, but it's never too late to learn.
  2. Use life jackets. In open water environments, wearing (not just carrying) life jackets is essential while boating. The U.S. Coast Guard has a great resource for choosing the right life jacket.
  3. Implement safe pool practices. Take steps to create a safer pool environment, including installing a pool fence, self-latching gates, pool covers, and alarms to alert unauthorized access to the water area.
  4. Designate a water watcher. This person’s sole responsibility is to constantly supervise children who are in or around water, without distractions. Plan to rotate water watchers every 15 minutes to keep everyone fresh and paying attention. Note that water wings and flotation devices aren’t a substitute for active supervision.
  5. Plan for the worst. Learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid techniques can save lives in drowning emergencies. Immediate intervention can prevent permanent brain damage and improve outcomes for drowning victims.

Take a CPR, AED and First aid class near you

Drowning is a preventable tragedy that claims thousands of lives each year and leaves many others with long-term health problems. Simple proactive steps — such as actively supervising, using proper barriers, and teaching children how to swim — can significantly reduce drowning incidents. But it’s also important to be prepared to respond whether it’s for your own children at home or to help others when at a public pool or out in the open water.

To take a CPR, AED and First Aid class, reach out to us to discuss options to fit your needs.