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 #PreventDrowning

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:

  • 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. The buddy system is especially beneficial for people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions that increase their risk of drowning.

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: 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 and South King County. Learn about being a lifeguard & sign up >>
  • Ace Academy Summer Learning Experience: HIPRC’s Outreach Core partnered with ACE Academy to support an engaged learning opportunity in injury and violence prevention (IVP) for its early high school summer program (students transitioning from 8thto 9th grade). Water safety and drowning prevention were one of the many IVP topics chosen as a focus for the summer >>
  • 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 >>


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).

In 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard reported:

  • 4,439 recreational boating accidents
  • 658 deaths
  • 2,641 injuries
  • $67.5 million dollars of property damage


Swimming in Open Water

When swimming in open water — such as lakes, rivers, ponds, Puget Sound, and the ocean — you can never be totally safe, BUT YOU CAN BE BETTER PREPARED.

Open water swimming is different than pool swimming. Having the skills to move properly in the water can save your life and potentially those of others when they get into difficulty. People tire faster and get into trouble more quickly. A person can go underwater in a murky lake, making them very hard to find, or be swept away in currents. Open water is unpredictable, and conditions can change in a matter of seconds!

Some things to be aware of include:

  • Currents, riptides & waves
  • Wind & storms
  • Floating impediments like logs & weeds
  • Aquatic creatures that will sting or bite
  • Poor water clarity
  • Bacteria & algae
  • Other people in boats or jet skis

Wearing a Life Jacket

In 2021 (where cause of death was known), 81% of people drowned from recreational boating incidents in the U.S. and 83% of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket or other type of personal floatation device (PFD).

Washington state law (RCW 79A.60.160) requires children ages 12 years and younger to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket or vest on vessels less than 19 feet long.

Practice safety when near open water >> Download the U.S. Coast Guard’s How to Choose the Right Life Jacket guide.



Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Boating and drinking alcohol is not a good mix. In 2021, alcohol was the #1 known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for 86 deaths. In Washington state, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in 17% of boating fatalities in the state.

Think Before You Drink! In Washington state, there are penalties for operating a boat under the influence (BUI):

  • It is a gross misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
  • Officers with probable cause can ask the boat operator to submit to a breathalyzer test. If the boater refuses to take the test, he or she will be issued a Class 1 Civil Infraction.
  • The maximum penalty for refusal to take a breathalyzer test is $1,000; however, RCW 3.62.090(the public safety and education assessment) adds 105% to the penalty, so the total fine could be up to $2,050.
  • The legal limit for operating under the influence of alcohol on our waterways is .08 and the legal limit for boating under the influence of marijuana is 5.0 nanograms.
  • The law applies to all boats, motorized and non-motorized, which includes, kayaks, canoes and rafts.

Learn more about Washington state Boating Laws and Regulations >>

WA State Boater Education

Many recreational boaters in Washington state are required by law to complete a boating safety course and carry a Washington State Boater Education Card. Whether you cruise, sail, kayak, fish, or do yoga on a stand up paddleboard, you are responsible to know the laws and basics of boating safety. The Washington State Boater Education Card is valid for your lifetime and meets requirements for recreational boating in Canada and many other states.

WA State Safe Boating Pledge

Recreational boating is a popular pastime in Washington state — just ask any of the several hundred thousand residents who own at least one canoe, kayak, rowboat, personal watercraft, stand up paddle board, drift boat, runabout, sailboat, motor yacht or some other type of recreational vessel. Boats and boaters are everywhere! 

Boating, however, isn’t without its risks. The chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest can be an unforgiving environment, and safety must be on the minds of everyone who plays in and around it. The Washington State Parks Boating Program, in partnership with the Seattle Mariners, invite you to take the WA Safe Boating Pledge!

PLEDGE TODAY >> Boat safely and responsibly… and encourage those around you to do the same!


Source: WA State Parks, WS DOH, Public Health – Seattle & King County, U.S. Coast Guard, and Total Aquatic Programming llc


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 – (JPG) | (PNG)
Supervise Closely – (JPG) | (PNG)
Swim with a Buddy – (JPG) | (PNG)
Resources – (JPG) | (PNG)
Wear a Life Jacket – (JPG) | (PNG)
Pool Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Boating Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Open Water Safety – (JPG) | (PNG)
Water Watcher Stickers – (JPG) | (PNG)

Sign up today >> FREE Student Lifeguard Training – (JPG) | (PNG)



Sign up today >> FREE Student Lifeguard Training – (PDF)

Five life-saving steps to follow in or near waterComing soon!



Watch & share!
Cool off, sure, but use caution in waterways 
– (Click to view)
Drowning danger as weather warms – (Click to view)



Learn more!
Shining a Light on Youth Drowning Prevention
– (Click to view)

Resources for EVERYONE to #PreventDrowning

  • Need a Life Jacket? Use this Coupon: Good at any Big 5 Sporting Goods store location in Washington state towards a one-time purchase of an in-stock life jacket (now through September 30, 2023).
  • American Red Cross:
    • Learn how to Prevent or Take Action in a Drowning Incident by using the Chain of Drowning Survival (available in English and Spanish)
    • FREE! Online Water Safety Courses
      • Orientation to Swim Lessons for Parents & Caregivers >> Sign-up
      • Becoming an Ambassador for Water Safety >> Sign-up
      • Water Safety for Parents & Caregivers >> Sign-up
      • Seguridad en el Agua para Padres y Cuidadores – Spanish Language Online >> Registrate
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • Borrow life jackets for FREE (Live Map Viewer) through life jacket loaner programs at boating ramps, bathing beaches and other sites around Washington state. 
    • Washington State Parks has an active Life jacket Loaner Program (PDF) list as well on their website.
    • ALERT: Some life jacket loaner stands may be closed due to the staffing issues and COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • 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.
  • Interested in becoming a lifeguard? Sign-up today! In addition to covering the costs of your Lifeguard Certification, HIPRC will also work with community partners to help you find job opportunities as a lifeguard. In order to certify, YOU MUST BE 15 YEARS-OLD *by the Final Day of the Free Lifeguard Training. Sign up today >>
  • #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.