Drowning prevention is an important water safety lesson everyone should learn. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children. It doesn’t matter if you’re swimming, fishing, or boating. How to prevent drowning is something everyone needs to be aware of. Water safety has to be our first priority at all times.

Taking a first aid course is probably the best thing you can do when it comes to drowning prevention. Investing in self closing gates for swimming pools is also smart. But there are some basic water safety tips that you should familiarize yourself with. This will reduce the risk of drowning and ensure everyone has a good time around water.

Water Safety Basics

The leading cause of death in aquatic accidents is drowning. Those include accidents on boats as well as those in swimming pools. It’s believed that there are three major factors that contribute to death by drowning.

  • People who don’t know how to swim
  • People who are drinking alcohol
  • The effects of cold water on the human body

Preventing these three factors is key for drowning prevention.

Risk Factors

People Who Don’t Know How to Swim

  • This affects young children more than adults. It’s important that any time a child is swimming or on a boat that they are under adult supervision. Your child should also have had swimming lessons ahead of time, especially if they’re on open water.
  • Nearly 400 young children per year drown in swimming pools or at a spa. This is either because they don’t know how to swim, or in some cases they can even become caught in swimming pool covers. 
  • Everyone in a boat should be wearing a life jacket at all times. This is of the utmost importance for drowning prevention. When water gets choppy or extremely cold, when you wear a life jacket it can be the difference between life and death. 
  • Water wings are not advisable for young children and toddlers as safety devices.

Drinking Alcohol

  • Swimming pool parties and trips out on the boat are meant to be fun occasions. A lot of people will take these opportunities to have a few drinks. But drinking and being around water make for a bad combination. It will greatly increase your risk of drowning. 
  • It’s estimated that alcohol is a factor in as many as 50% of all adult drowning deaths. Some studies even estimate a higher amount. Swimming pools need to be as respected as the open water. The risk of drowning is just too high.

Cold Water

  • The cold temperatures found in many natural bodies of water will shock your system. This causes an involuntary inhalation reaction. 
  • If you are fully immersed in the water you’re going to pull it into your lungs due to reflex action. That is why cold water is more of a drowning risk than a higher water temperature.
  • Even if you don’t immediately inhale water, frigid water presents other issues. Lower temperature water leads to vasoconstriction. That means it’s harder for your heart to pump blood through your body. People have to work harder to tread water. Your limbs will begin to get numb. A child will succumb to this faster.
  • Water that is at 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to hypothermia very quickly. You will have less than 15 minutes before exhaustion or unconsciousness sets in. 
  • Up to 40 degrees you will likely only have 30 minutes before you lose consciousness. People who wear life jackets are able to float on water almost indefinitely.
  • Many natural bodies of water may be colder than they look. And water is also colder the deeper you go. The best way to prevent drowning around water that is cold is to wear life jackets and know how to swim..

Signs of Drowning

One of the key elements to drowning prevention is being able to recognize the signs of drowning. Many victims of drowning lose their lives because Witnesses are unable to tell that they are in distress. When you are near the water, be on the lookout for these signs.

  • Head back
  • Mouth open
  • Head bobbing up and down above and below the surface
  • Lack of vocalizations meaning the victim is likely not yelling or screaming for help
  • Arms waving above the water in a pattern resembling a breaststroke

Because many drowning victims don’t make noises, people don’t realize that they are in danger. That’s why witnessing these signs is important. They are often mistaken for horseplay or splashing around in the water. A small child can drown in a swimming pool in as little as 20 seconds. And adults in as little as 1 minute.

Preventative Measures

Unsecured swimming pools are the biggest risk for drowning. There are measures to take to make these safer. 

  • Invest in a proper pool fence. Something with a self closing and self latching gate. 
  • A pool alarm is also a good idea. That way if children do get near the pool you’ll know.
  • A covered pool is as big a risk as an open one. Pool covers are easy for toddlers to get caught in. 
  • Swimming pools need to always be secure or supervised. Around swimming pools, adult supervision is still important.
  • Provide swimming lessons for your child.
  • Anytime you are on a boat wear a life jacket. Children need to be taught to always have one when on the water.

How to Respond

Being able to react quickly is another key to drowning prevention. If you know what to do, you could potentially save a life. Here are some important steps in order to save someone from drowning.

  • Call 911 or notify a lifeguard if you’re near one
  • Remove the victim from the water. Get them to shore or to the edge of the swimming pool.
  • Check to see if they are breathing. Put your ear right next to the drowning victim’s mouth and nose. See if you can feel any air against your flesh or hear them breathing.
  • Check their pulse for 10 seconds. You can do this either at the wrist or on the neck. Make sure you’re checking the right spot.
  • If there’s no pulse you’re going to need to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation CPR. 

CPR is something that everyone should learn and you can take classes from the American Red Cross. Even if you haven’t learned the proper method yet, it’s still a good idea to try if your victim is not breathing. If there are other people, see if anyone is trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation that can help.

CPR Basics

  • If you’re dealing with an adult or a child for the heel of one hand on the center of their chest at nipple height. If you’re dealing with an infant, you just want to use two fingers on their breast bone.
  • You can place your other hand on top of the hand on the person’s chest. You want to press down at least 2 in for an adult or a child but no more than 1 and 1/2 for an infant. Make sure you’re not pressing into the ribs or on the end of an infant’s breast bone.
  • You can do chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 per minute. Let the chest rise after each compression before pushing down again.
  • Chest compressions can be done to the beat of the song “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees. It sounds silly but it works and can help you keep time in your head.
  • After a minute, check to see if they have started breathing.
  • Continue chest compressions until help arrives unless you have some training and CPR. If you do, you can now attempt to open the airway and get the victim to breathe again.
  • You should not try this if you haven’t had proper training however because simply reading the instructions online may not prepare you to properly get this part of CPR done.
  • If you have some training, then you’ll want to tilt the victim’s head back to open the airway and lift their chin.
  • You will need to hold the victim’s nose closed and then create an airtight seal over their mouth with your mouth before giving them two one-second breaths while watching to see if their chest is rising or not.
  • After two breaths, repeat 30 chest compressions and continue until emergency help arrives.
  • Always be more cautious when dealing with a child and doing CPR. The ribs of a child or an infant are much more fragile. The risk of breaking one is greater than you think. It’s even possible with an adult.

If you are not confident in your ability to render CPR then don’t do anything that could exacerbate the situation or cause worse injury. Call for help first thing and let them walk you through the steps if possible, or allow someone else to help.

Fast Facts About Drowning Prevention

  • Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for young people.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is the fifth leading cause of unintentional death in the United States regardless of age.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics drowning is the leading cause of death for young children ages 1 to 4 after birth defects.
  • One-in-five drowning victims are young children ages 14 and younger. This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.
  • Nearly 1,000 young children died from drowning in 2017, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • The American Red Cross offers regular CPR classes.
  • Local swimming pools offer swim lessons
  • Safety measures like pool fences with gates that are self closing and self latching save lives
  • Life jacket use is a major factor in drowning. Only 12% of adults wear life jackets

The Bottom Line

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for young people in America. One in five drowning victims are under age 14. There are over 4,000 drowning deaths per year and 8,000 non-fatal drownings. That’s why it’s important for children and adults to understand water safety and drowning prevention.

Make sure that pools are secured and supervised. On boats, children and adults should always know where life jackets are and have proper fitting and functional life jackets on at all times. This is even more important in cold water where shock and hypothermia can lead to drowning much faster than in warm water. Only 12% of adults wear life jackets, a key factor in why so many drowning deaths occur.

Swimming lessons, responsible water safety and the use of proper safety equipment can help prevent drownings at home and on the boat.