Anyone can suffer the gut-wrenching heartbreak caused by drowning. Every year, especially in the summer months, news reports are full of stories about devastated loved ones mourning the loss of someone who drowned. But, until they experienced it, they thought drowning was something that only happened to others.
The reality is that anytime you’re near a body of water, there’s a possibility of drowning. However, certain risk factors make it more likely. Therefore, the best way to save victims from drowning is to reduce the risks of it happening in the first place as much as possible. And the best way to do that is to be aware of the five most common risk factors for drowning.
- Lack of Supervision
Drowning can happen anywhere water can be found — pools, lakes, rivers, ponds, oceans, bathtubs, hot tubs, etc. While anyone can drown at any age, it’s crucial to never leave a child unattended near water. Parents must always provide adult supervision to avoid the horror of discovering a child at the bottom of a pool or in the bathtub.
Adults who know how to swim should take turns being designated supervisors at any recreational water facility to avoid distractions, even when lifeguards are on duty. And children under four should always be supervised at arm’s length, even if they can swim. Air-filled toys, such as water wings, noodles, or inner tubes, should never be relied on to keep children safe in the water.
Never swim alone and follow the 10/20 rule: scan the area every 10 seconds and be able to reach the water within 20 seconds.
- Absence of Barriers
A swimming pool can provide hours of fun and much-needed relief in the sweltering heat of the summer. But, unless the correct type of safety barriers are in place, it can also be dangerous, especially for young children. Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional death among children 1 to 14, and 45% of child drowning deaths occur at a swimming pool at a private residence.
Responsible pool owners must make their pools safe by installing a tall, four-sided locking fence tall enough to prevent wandering children from entering the pool area. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing.
The gate leading to the pool should open out and be self-closing. It should also be self-latching with a latch above a child’s reach, and there should be less than four inches of space between the fence and the ground.
Ideally, an inground pool should be covered with a rigid safety cover (preferably motorized) whenever it’s not in use. Above-ground pool covers should fit securely over the pool’s surface to ensure that a child can’t get trapped underneath. All ladders and steps should also be removed from an above-ground pool and safely stored.
While installing a fence or a motorized rigid cover may not be cheap, it is worth a child’s life.
- Inability To Swim
Although even strong swimmers can drown, people who are weak swimmers or who can’t swim at all are at a much higher risk of drowning. Not having the skills to tread water or keep their heads above water puts them in danger.
Pediatricians recommend swimming lessons for children older than one. However, parents and caregivers should determine if a child is developmentally ready for swim lessons. Swimming lessons for children under one are not recommended, as they are not developmentally able to learn breathing techniques.
Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and municipal and neighborhood pools, provide low-cost and even free swimming lessons. Look for trained swim instructors certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Ideally, programs should also teach water competency — the ability to get out of the water if your child ends up in the water unexpectedly.
- Lack of Life Jackets and Rescue Devices
Enjoying a day on open water requires having properly-fitting life jackets for everyone. Anytime someone gets in the water — on a tube, wakeboard, skis, or boat — they should wear a life jacket.
In 2020, the Coast Guard counted 5,265 boating accidents that involved 767 deaths and 3,191 injuries. Where the cause of death was known, 75 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 86 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
The U.S. Coast Guard requires boats to have a USCG-approved life jacket that is accessible, in good serviceable condition, and of an appropriate size for each person on board. Boats 16 feet and longer are also required to have a Type IV throwable device on board.
- Impairment or Intoxication
Intoxicated people are at a higher risk of drowning when in or near water than their sober counterparts. According to the CDC, around 70% of water recreation deaths and one in four emergency department visits for near-drownings are associated with alcohol consumption.
Alcohol and many other drugs impair balance, coordination, and judgment, making users more likely to engage in risky behaviors. These factors can combine to make drowning more likely.
Everyone Can Help Prevent Drowning
Together we can end the heartache of losing a loved one due to drowning. Take our Water Safety Challenge to measure your family’s water safety competence and help us provide water safety outreach to schools and community groups to keep kids safe.