LittlePeopleLogo     A Parent's Guide to Water Safety 

In many parts of the United States, drowning is the number one cause of death in children under age 5. Children drown in pools, rivers, bathtubs, toilets, and even large buckets of water. Any amount of water — even a few inches in a bathtub — can be dangerous to a child. This brochure has been developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you keep your children safe around water.


Infants (0–1 year of age) — home hazards

Infants and toddlers are not able to protect themselves from drowning, even in a few inches of water. Children this age are most at risk of drowning in bathtubs or by falling into large buckets found around the house. Many bathtub drownings happen when a parent leaves a small child alone or with another young child. Remember, never leave a young child alone in a bathtub — even for a few seconds. Even supporting devices, such as bath rings, are not enough to keep your child from drowning. Children must be watched by an adult at all times while in the bathtub.

Toilets, 5-gallon buckets, and other large containers commonly found in the home (like large coolers with melted ice in them) are also very dangerous for a child of this age. Every year there are reports of children who have leaned forward while looking into an open toilet or large bucket, tipped into the toilet or bucket, and drowned. Since the head is the heaviest part of a small child's body, he or she can easily fall into these containers. Also, when large containers are filled with liquid, they weigh more than the child and will not tip over to allow the child to get out. Parents need to keep a close eye on their children, especially as they learn to crawl. Make sure to:


Preschoolers (1–5 years of age) — swimming pools

Parents should not put a swimming pool in their yard until their child is over 5 years of age. Swimming pools are the number one drowning risk for preschool-age children. A child can drown in her own backyard pool or spa even while an adult is there. In most cases, though, tragedy happens when a young child wanders away from the house and into the pool without a parent knowing it. A child can easily slip into the water without making a sound or splash. It is not until a parent notices the child missing that she is found in the water.

Swimming lessons

Though swimming lessons are widely available, they are not recommended for children under age 3. There are two reasons:

If you want to put your small child in a swimming program, choose one that does not require your child to put his or her head under water. Also, find a program that allows you to be involved in all activities. Once your child is ready (usually around 5 years old), enroll him or her in swimming lessons. This will help your child to feel more comfortable in and around water. Remember, teaching your child to swim DOES NOT mean he or she is safe in the water. Even a child who knows how to swim may drown a few feet from safety if he or she gets confused or scared. Also remember that even a child who knows how to swim needs to be watched at all times. No one, adult or child, should ever swim alone.

Rules for pool safety

There are several other things you can do to keep your small child safe around a pool. Watch him or her closely when near pools or spas. Never leave a small child alone in or near a pool, even for a moment. Keep toys away from the pool so that your child is not tempted to reach for them. Empty blow-up pools and put them away after each use. The following rules will also help keep your child safe around water:

It may not be possible to watch a child every second. For this reason, there should be a fence around the pool or spa that:

Combined with the watchful eyes of an adult, a fence is the best way to protect not only your child, but other children who may visit or live in the neighborhood. Automatic pool covers (motorized covers operated by a switch), door alarms, or pool alarms also can be helpful when used with a four-sided fence. When using pool covers, cover the pool completely so that your child cannot slip under the pool cover. Make sure there is no standing water on top of the pool cover. Be aware that floating solar covers are not safety covers.


CPR : life-giving breath

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can save a child's life and help reduce injury after a near-drowning. Anyone watching a small child around a pool should learn and regularly review CPR for infants and children. In an emergency, CPR should be given immediately at poolside. Studies have found that the sooner CPR is given, the greater the victim's chances of survival. CPR training is available through the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and your local hospital or fire department.

Besides CPR training, here are some other ways to be ready for an emergency:

In the event of an emergency:

School-age children (5–12 years of age) — outdoor hazards
Swimming and water sports are great fun and good exercise for children this age. However, many drownings of school-age children occur in oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. Never let your child swim in any body of water without an adult watching. Also, do not let your child water-ski, scuba dive, or snorkel without instructions from a qualified teacher.

Other water hazards found near many homes include ditches, post holes, wells, fish ponds, and fountains. Watch your child closely if he is playing near any of these areas.

Rules for swimming safety
Teach your child the following safety rules and make sure they are obeyed:


Life jackets and life preservers

If your family enjoys boating, sailing, and canoeing on lakes, rivers, and streams, make sure everyone wears the correct life jacket. Many young people think life jackets are hot, bulky, and ugly. However, today's models look better, feel better, and provide better protection. Many states require the use of life jackets and life preservers, and they must be present on all boats traveling in bodies of water supervised by the US Coast Guard. Parents should choose life jackets that are appropriate for their child's weight and age and are approved by the US Coast Guard.

Use only life jackets that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratory (UL). If they have been tested, they will have a label that says so. Life jackets are also labeled as to whether they are for a child or adult. Remember, unless your child uses a life jacket, he or she is not protected. Also, a life jacket should not be used in place of adult supervision.

Keep the following tips in mind:


Adolescents (12–18 years old) — diving and swimming while intoxicated

Older children and teenagers are also at risk from drowning even though they are more likely to have had swimming lessons. Children in this age group often drown while swimming in unsupervised places such as water-filled quarries, rivers, or ponds. Often the swimmer thinks he can swim better than he actually can, and does not understand the water currents or the depth of the water. Adolescents are also at risk of drowning as a result of serious injury from diving or swimming while drinking alcohol or using other drugs.

Many swimmers are seriously injured each year from diving mishaps. Serious spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and death can occur to swimmers who: 

Avoid getting hurt by following these simple common-sense rules:



Among teenagers, drowning is often the result of risky behavior, alcohol, or both. Drinking alcohol or using other drugs while swimming, diving, and playing water sports puts swimmers at serious risk of drowning. These activities require clear thinking, coordination, and the ability to judge distance, depth, speed, and direction. Alcohol affects the part of the brain that allows a person to stay in control and impairs all of these skills.

Encourage your teen to take swimming, diving, and water safety or rescue classes. This will give him or her the skills needed to swim and dive safely. Your teen will also be less likely to act recklessly.

Children are naturally curious about water — whether it be in a pool, lake, or large bucket. However, each year, too many young children die or are left brain damaged because of preventable drowning injuries. By following simple safety precautions, your family can enjoy the water and prevent these tragedies.