Drowning Prevention & Water Safety

Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death in youth — in WA state, an average of 17 children & teens drown each year.

Drowning is a major public health issue-

Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid and is not always fatal. It most often occurs quickly and quietly during periods of inadequate supervision. Adult supervision is often a common contributing factor for childhood drowning.

Three main components of adequate supervisory behavior are:

  • proximity
  • attention
  • continuity

It is important to stress that no single intervention is fully protective. Rather, multiple layers of protection are recommended. 

In 2018, almost 900 U.S. children and youth under 20-years of age died of drowning; more than 7,200 were seen at a hospital emergency department for a drowning event, with 35% either hospitalized or transferred for further care.

Risks related to race and ethnicity are likely related to differences in exposure, behavior, knowledge, and skills. Further research is imperative to learn more about racial and ethnic disparities in drowning and guide effective prevention interventions.

Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center is continuing to build community-academic partnerships that can make a difference in water safety and drowning prevention through lifeguard training, community-responsive aquatic programming, and research. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also updated its prior Drowning Guidelines Report with NEW information and research.


Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC); American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)


Please share these key messages with families, parents, caregivers & loved ones!

Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

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

Construct and use a four-sided fence that is at least four feet in height and fully encloses the pool and separates it from the house, with self-closing and self-latching gates. Remove all toys from the pool area that might attract children to the pool when the pool is not in use.

Lakes, rivers, and oceans have hidden hazards such as dangerous currents or waves, rocks or vegetation, and limited visibility. 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.

In Washington:

  • Natural bodies of water were the setting in 35% of drownings in the 0- to 4-year age group
  • 69% of the drownings in the 5- to 14-year age group
  • 95% of the drownings of adolescent

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

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

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. 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. Adults should supervise children closely even when lifeguards are present.

Always swim with a buddy. Choose swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible. Even strong swimmers can be in danger when something unexpected happens. The “Buddy System” can keep all swimmers safe – and is especially important for those at higher risk for drowning, including those with certain medical conditions like seizure disorders.


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.


  • Swim Seattle: Mayor Bruce Harrell, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and a host of community partners are excited to announce the launch of Swim Seattle – a NEW program designed to reduce drownings and remove barriers for Seattle children to obtain comprehensive, FREE swim lessons. Register today >>
  • National Injury Prevention Day 2022 & 2023: HIPRC joined Injury Free Coalition, Seattle Children’s, Public Health – Seattle and King County, and SPLASHForward in “Shining a Light” on youth drowning prevention. Seattle’s collaborative efforts were focused on water safety by supporting the development of a racially and ethnically diverse teen lifeguard pipeline in Seattle & King County. Learn about being a lifeguard & sign up >>
  • Drowning Prevention Partnership with HIPRC and Seattle Children’s: In a new partnership between Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, our organizations will work together to synergize existing partners towards youth drowning prevention. Together, we will co-develop a culturally resonant and parent-friendly drowning prevention toolkit and resource guide. Learn more about this monumental partnership >>
  • INSIGHT High School Program: Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center’s virtual high school program provides valuable exposure to the medical and public health fields, emphasizes social justice, and highlights health disparities. During the virtual course, scholars work together through four challenging, fun and busy weeks. As part of our curriculum, a public health communication workshop is included and focuses on drowning prevention. Learn more about INSIGHT HS >>

Drowning Inequities 

Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center will continue to engage with communities and work with our local, state, and national partners on research to better understand who is most at risk for drowning and what measures can keep people safe. This is especially important in racial and ethnically diverse communities, who have historically been overlooked when it comes to water safety. Several projects are underway to better understand who has access to formal swim instruction, and the role swim lessons play in keeping children safe, with private, nonprofit, and public sector partners.

Swimming Pools Pose Serious Risks 

Most drownings occur in residential swimming pools among children ages 1-to-4 years of age.

Most of the young children who drowned were last seen in the home, had been out of sight for less than 5 minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning. Swimming pools (unlike open bodies of water) have fewer drowning hazards. However, swimming pools can still pose serious risks to children and adults who do not know how to swim.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, all pools whether in-ground or aboveground must have:

  • a barrier, optimally 4-sided isolation fencing (high enough to meet the recommended 4-foot height for barrier fencing) — or alternatively, may have a barrier mounted onto the top of the pool structure
  • steps or a ladder leading to the pool that is secured, locked, or surrounded by a barrier to prevent access when the pool is not in use (or removed altogether when not in use)

Entrapment Safety

Entrapment and hair entanglement remain causes of injury and drowning in the pediatric population. Hair entanglement typically involves girls with long hair who are underwater near a suction outlet. The water flow into the drain sweeps the hair into and around the drain cover, where it becomes entangled in the holes and protrusions of the cover. Other types of entrapment involve a limb or body part. This scenario often involves a child playing with an open drain, inserting a hand or foot into the pipe, and then becoming trapped by increasing suction and resulting tissue swelling. 

Measures you can take to prevent entrapment and hair entanglement:

  • Don’t play or swim near drains or suction outlets, especially in spas and shallow pools.
  • Keep long hair away from suction drains by using hair braids, bands, or swim caps.
  • Never enter a pool or spa that has a loose, broken, or missing drain cover.
  • Know where the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump is and mark it for quick turnoff.
  • If someone is entrapped against a drain, cut-off the power to the pump immediately. Instead of trying to pull the person away from the powerful suction, pry a hand between the drain and the person’s body to break the seal.
  • Have a professional regularly inspect your home pool or spa for entrapment hazards. Certifications are available through the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals or the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association. Ask your local pool professional if your pool and/or spa drains are compliant with the VIRGINIA GRAEME BAKER Pool and Spa Safety Act. If not, find out what options you can take to prevent entrapment from drains.


Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission; Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC); Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH)

Locate an Aquatic Facility Nearest You >>

Learn to swim or strengthen your skills through these resources: 

The AAP supports swimming lessons for children older than 1 year. Swim lessons are increasingly available for children with various disabilities, including autism, or other health conditions. Track your swimmer’s learning progress with this FREE app sponsored by the ZAC Foundation (TEXT “SWIM” to 90999 to download the app — or you can search for American Red Cross in the iTunes app store or GooglePlay).

Whether you like to lap swim, dog-paddle, or just like to splash around to cool off, King County and Washington State has dozens of ways to hit the water this summer in the pool or at the beach!

  • Coming soon: list of the 2024 Seattle Parks and Recreation  Summer Pool, Spraypark, and Beach Hours.
  • Coming soon: list of the 2024 King County Area Public Lifeguarded Beaches and Summer Outdoor Pools.
  • To find a list of Washington State Parks, visit Washington State Parks >>


When boating in open water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and the ocean — YOU CAN NEVER BE TOTALLY SAFE, BUT YOU CAN BE BETTER PREPARED.

Too often pleasure outings turn tragic—as a boat operator, passenger, or concerned individual, YOU can help prevent injury on our waterways.

Learn more about boating education requirements, laws, life jacket loaner stations, and safety resources >>

Become a Lifeguard


Interested in becoming a Lifeguard? The HIPRC and local community partners will cover the costs of your Student Lifeguard Training and Certification and help you to locate a job opportunity as a Lifeguard. To Certify: Students must be 15 years old by the (final day) of their training.

Spread the word & register today >>

King County – 2024 Summer Lifeguard Jobs and Training

King County Aquatic Centers, including the Covington Aquatic Center, Evergreen Pool, and the City of Renton’s Henry Moses Aquatic Center are training and hiring Lifeguards for the 2024 season.

Learn more & share >>

Seattle Parks and Recreation – Aquatics Employment and Training

Seattle Parks and Recreation is recruiting Temporary Lifeguards for eight indoor pools in Seattle. Current Red Cross Lifeguard certification is required, and candidates must be at least 16 years old to apply. Part-time work hours are available. 

Learn more & apply today >>

Resources for anyone – at any age!

  • 2024 Big 5 Life Jacket Coupon
    Big 5 customers in Washington State and North Idaho can redeem one coupon per person (in-store only) for 20% off a regular priced and in stock life jacket. Grab your coupon today >> 
  • American Red Cross:
  • Parents, Children & Teens: Have fun and be safe using these resources when swimming, wearing life jackets and addressing other water safety measures in and around your home.
  • Water Safety with Colin & Friends: Lessons, curriculum & resources for parents/caregivers, teachers, swim instructors, and camps.
  • Taking Care of Natural Hair (while swimming) Trainees for Child Injury Prevention (TC4IP) shared tips on how to protect your natural hair while swimming. 
  • Life Jacket Loaner Program:
    • Washington State Parks has an active map for their Life jacket Loaner Program as well on their website.
    • ALERT: Some life jacket loaner stands may be closed due to the staffing issues and COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • International Life Saving Federation – Drowning Chain of Survival: All nations would benefit from a simple, clear Drowning Chain of Survival. In high income nations, this tool will refine prevention and the call for action. In low and middle income nations, this tool is a guide for policymaking, resource allocation and priority setting in drowning prevention. A best evidence approach was utilized to create a universal Drowning Chain of Survival. 
  • NEW! Open Water Swimming Safety Toolkit: Prevent Child Injury addresses the increased risk of drowning among teenagers who swim in open water and encourages parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about making safe and smart decisions when swimming in open water.
  • Seattle Children’s and Washington State Drowning Prevention Network (WA DPN): Seattle Children’s and the WA DPN work together to provide information and resources on drowning prevention and water safety. Fill out this email list request form to join the WA DPN, which provides a forum for water safety and injury prevention organizations in Washington state to work together to prevent drowning.
  • Drowning Prevention Toolkit:  Drowning can happen to any family. It’s quick, and it’s silent. Learn more on how to prevent and keep children safe with the American Academy of Pediatric’s new Drowning Prevention Toolkit.
  • SPLASHForward’s Water Safety Resources: Drownings are preventable. View more of SPLASHForward’s Water Safety resources here >>
  • #RecreateResponsibly: Check out Recreate Responsibly’s updated Water Safety Edition, A Guide on How to Recreate Responsibly In or Near Water. Enjoying time outside includes being water-safe. Know your own limits, as even confident and strong swimmers can get into trouble. Follow, share and contribute to this guidance by #RecreateResponsibly to safely recreate in, on, or around water.
  • #PaddleWise: Check out Paddle Wise’s Responsibility Code for River Runners – Be your best self on the water and help protect, restore and maintain access to our rivers! Download this FREE Toolkit to help spread the word on how we can share our rivers responsibly.

Visit our Digital Resource Center to learn more about Drowning Prevention & Water Safety topics — plus, more injury and violence prevention topics year-round!