NEWS | June 3, 2019

Drowning: It takes seconds for your child to be in danger


With the weather heating up, many people seek relief from the heat at the nearest body of water. But pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean claim thousands of lives each year.

Children should ALWAYS wear a life vest when around natural bodies of water. Children should ALWAYS wear a life vest when around natural bodies of water.

To prevent drownings, safety precautions are crucial.


  • More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • Of all children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, one-third died from drowning.
  • Fatal drownings remain the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4 (Centers for Disease Control, 2017).

“It is never okay to leave a child unattended in or around a pool, even for a few seconds,” said Misael Chavarin, community education specialist with the UC Davis Children’s Hospital Kohl’s Injury Prevention Program. “A responsible adult should always be designated to supervise children who are playing or swimming in or around water. Younger children are especially at risk for drowning and should be watched with 'touch supervision,' which means they kept within arm’s reach of an adult when they are in or near the water.” 

Drowning prevention includes keeping a close watch on younger children in the house as well. Children under age 1 are more likely to drown in bathtubs, buckets or toilets. 

“Infants should never be left unattended in the tub for any reason. An older child or sibling in the tub with an infant is not a substitute for adult supervision,” said Chavarin. 

Teens also at risk of drowning

Older teens, especially males between the ages of 15 and 19, are also at a high risk of drowning. Drowning deaths in this age group most often occur in natural bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and oceans. Boat-related injuries account for a fifth of these cases. Often times these accidents are a result of high-risk behavior and/or drugs and alcohol.

Prevention Tip

The most important thing to remember is that there is no substitute for your undivided attention. A drowning can occur in seconds. Most young children who drown in pools were last seen in the house less than five minutes before the drowning occurred. Most of the time one or both parents were home.

While your child is swimming, watch them at all times. Even looking at your cellphone by the pool could be enough time for a drowning to happen.

  • Air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings,” “noodles” or inner-tubes should not be used in place of life jackets (personal flotation devices). These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Keep the pool area completely enclosed with a fence at least five feet tall. Many young children can easily scale a chain link fence in less than 30 seconds. To prevent this, an iron fence with vertical bars three inches apart and horizontal bars no closer than 45 inches together is recommended.
  • Pool covers and pool alarms can be helpful, but do not serve as a substitute for a good fence. Children can become trapped under soft pool covers and can easily drown.
  • All gates around the pool should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be near the top of the fence to prevent smaller children from reaching it.
  • Swimming lessons for children 4 years and older are now recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Remove all toys from the pool after children are done swimming. This takes away the temptation to retrieve a toy and accidentally fall in.
  • Parents should keep toilet lids and bathroom doors shut around small children. Any pail of liquid should not be left unsupervised on the floor. Children have been known to fall face-first into a bucket of water.  
  • Pool owners and parents should take a basic CPR course. These courses are offered by organizations such as the American Red Cross at a low cost.
  • Communication is key. Talk to your kids about the importance of water safety. Make sure younger children know the rules about being in or near the pool unsupervised. Talk with teens about the dangers of diving into the river from rocks or bridges. Explain why alcohol and drugs make it even more likely for a fatal water drowning to occur.

Children should ALWAYS wear a life vest when around natural bodies of water. Parents and other adults should set a good example by always wearing theirs. Sacramento County law requires all children under age 13 to wear a life jacket in all public county waterways.

Additional resources

Safe Kids: Water Safety

AAP: Water Safety and Drowning Prevention