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 adequate supervisory behavior are:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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!
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 >>
How to Prevent or Take Action in a Drowning Incident – (Click to view)
WHO Executive Board recommends that World Health Assembly adopt its resolution on drowning – (Click to view)
2023 Drowning Prevention – (PDF)
Drowning is a Leading Cause of Injury-related Death in Youth
Introduction – (JPG) | (PNG)
Wear a Life Jacket – (JPG) | (PNG)
Swim with a Buddy – (JPG) | (PNG)
Pool Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Supervise Closely – (JPG) | (PNG)
Boating Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Resources – (JPG) | (PNG)
Open Water Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Water Watcher Stickers – (JPG) | (PNG)
Sign up today >> FREE Student Lifeguard Training – (PDF)
How to Prevent or Take Action in a Drowning Incident– (PDF)
Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related Deaths of Youth – (PDF)
Shining a Light on Youth Drowning Prevention – (Click to view)