Who’s at risk?
Drowning can happen to anyone in an instant. Knowing the risks can be instrumental in reducing the number of accidental drownings. From 2013 to 2017, the highest rate of drowning occurred in children age 0 to 4 years of age. Children 12 to 36 months of age are at highest risk in this age group. Infants typically drown in bathtubs and buckets. Toddlers and preschoolers typically drown in swimming pools.
Adolescents age 15 to 19 years have the second highest fatal drowning rate. Most children in this age group drown in natural water settings.
Certain medical conditions that can increase risk for accidental drowning such as epilepsy, autism and certain heart conditions. Children with epilepsy are at risk for drowning in bathtubs and swimming pool. Whenever possible, children with epilepsy should shower instead of bathe and swim only in locations where there is a lifeguard. In children with autism, wandering is the most commonly reported behavior leading to drowning. Wandering accounts for nearly 74% of fatal drowning incidents in children with autism. Certain heart conditions that cause abnormal rhythms during exertion when swimming can also increase a child’s risk for drowning.
Tips from the CDC
- Supervise When in or Around Water. Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision”, be close enough to reach the child at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present.
- Use the Buddy System. Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible.
- Seizure Disorder Safety. If you or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools. Consider taking showers rather than using a bath tub for bathing. Wear life jackets when boating.
- Learn to Swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water, and barriers, such as pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access, are still important.
- Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone’s life.
- Air-Filled or Foam Toys are not safety devices. Don’t use air-filled or foam toys such as “water wings”, “noodles”, or inner-tubes instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
- Avoid Alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
- Don’t let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming under water or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out (sometimes called “hypoxic blackout” or “shallow water blackout”) and drown.
- Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.
If you have a swimming pool at home:
- Install Four-Sided Fencing. Install a four-sided pool fence that completely separates the pool area from the house and yard. The fence should be at least 4 feet high. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children. Also, consider additional barriers such as automatic door locks and alarms to prevent access or alert you if someone enters the pool area.
- Clear the Pool and Deck of Toys. Remove floats, balls, and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
If you are in and around natural water settings:
- Use U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets. This is important regardless of the distance to be traveled, the size of the boat, or the swimming ability of boaters; life jackets can reduce risk for weaker swimmers too.
- Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags. These may vary from one beach to another.
- Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents. Some examples are water that is discolored and choppy, foamy, or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore.
- If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward shore.