Drowning: The Facts Everyone Needs to Know
Every year the news is peppered with devastating stories about parents who lost children or families who lost loved ones who drowned. You never think it will happen to you, but that’s what everyone who experienced it thought, too. The truth is that most drownings are preventable, but you have to understand the facts and know how to prevent it from happening. Here are the basic facts about drowning:
General Drowning Facts
No one is drown-proof, and drowning doesn’t discriminate.
Drowning is fast and silent. It can happen in as little as 20-60 seconds. Drowning doesn’t always look like we would expect.
No central database for drowning accidents deaths exists. Government organizations like US Centers for Disease Control gather data on a best-efforts basis. Non-profits like the International Lifesaving Federation and research experts estimate statistics further, based on this imperfect information.
Drowning incidents and fatalities are universally underreported in the US and globally. No single standard exists for attributing drowning deaths. Hospitals, first responders and county health authorities such coroners use individual judgement and interpretation of an accident according to their own experience and the facts they have at the time of death.
There are an estimated 320,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.
Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths.
Globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years.
Males are especially at risk of drowning, with twice the overall mortality rate of females.
In the US, an average of 3,500 to 4,000 people drown per year. That is an average of 10 fatal drownings per day.
Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1-4.
Drowning remains in the top 5 causes of unintentional injury-related death from birth to 5 years old.
Twenty-three percent of child drownings happen during a family gathering near a pool.
Drowning is the cause of death for most boating fatalities.
It’s estimated that another 5 to 10 people receive hospital-related care for nonfatal drowning injuries for every fatal drowning victim.
Children younger than one-year-old are more likely to drown at home.
Eighty-seven percent of drowning fatalities happen in home pools or hot tubs for children younger than 5. Most take place in pools owned by family or friends.
Children 5 to 17 years old are more likely to drown in natural water, such as ponds or lakes.
Drowning Risks Vary by Race and Household Income
Sixty-four percent of African-American, 45 percent of Hispanic/Latino, and 40 percent of Caucasian children have few to no swimming skills.
When parents have no/low swimming skills (or competence) ability, their children are unlikely to have proficient swimming skills. This affects:
78 percent of African-American children
62 percent of Hispanic/Latino children
67 percent of Caucasian children
African-American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than Caucasian children in the same age range.
Seventy-nine percent of children in households with incomes less than $50,000 have few-to-no swimming skills.
Understanding how to prevent leading causes of child injury, like drowning, is a step toward keeping children safe. It’s great to enjoy time at the pool or beach, but it’s important to remember that drownings are a leading cause of injury death for young children ages one to 14. Thankfully, adults can play a crucial role in protecting the children they love from drowning.
Everyone should know the basics of swimming (floating, moving through the water) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Learn to swim
Learning to swim can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent for 1 to four-year-olds who take formal swim lessons.
Four-sided isolation fences, with self–closing and self–latching gates, around backyard swimming pools can help keep children away from the area when they aren’t supposed to be swimming. Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool.
Wear life jackets
Make sure kids wear life jackets in and around natural water bodies, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. Life jackets can be used in and around pools for weaker swimmers too.
Close supervision is required when kids are in or near water (including bathtubs), at all times. Drowning happens quickly and quietly, so adults watching kids in or near water should avoid distracting activities like playing cards, reading books, talking on the phone and using alcohol or drugs.
Unintentional drowning is preventable. Learn more about drowning and prevention programs. It’s a challenge to avoid distractions, but children need the undivided attention of adults when they are near or in water. That text message can wait. So can that phone call, especially if it means saving a life!