Child Water Safety: Four Steps to Prevent Drowning


Every summer, Vermonters and Northern New Yorkers venture to swimming pools and our natural rivers, streams, lakes and ponds to cool off and have fun. As we approach Labor Day weekend, many events are cancelled and indoor venues closed due to COVID-19, so recreating outdoors is especially inviting.

The risk for COVID-19 exposure is top of mind these days, but we should be aware of existing seasonal risks such as drowning. Drowning can occur even during non-swim times. In fact, 70 percent of children age 4 and under who drown were not expected to be at or in the water, according to a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

So, what can you do? There are layers of protection that help keep kids safe. Follow these four steps to prevent children from drowning.

Assign an Adult “Water Watcher”

The adult water watcher’s ONLY job is to pay constant attention to children who are in the water. If you are the water watcher, be sure to put down your cell phone, avoid other activities and do not drink alcohol or use other substances. There should be a water watcher even if there are lifeguards on duty and the water watcher should switch off with another adult to take breaks. 

Wear Life Jackets

When in the water, children should always wear well-fitted life jackets that are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Water wings, noodles, floaties and other air-filled or foam toys are not appropriate replacements for a life jacket. Remember: even if children are wearing life jackets there should still be a water watcher. 

Learn to Swim

It’s important for children to learn to swim as soon as they are ready, as early as 12 months old. If you are not sure if your child is ready for swim lessons ask your pediatrician for help. It’s hard to find swim lessons this year due to COVID-19, but you can typically find swim lessons through the Red Cross or local gyms such as the YMCA.

Create a Safe Environment

Because so many drownings, especially in children less than 4 years old, happen during non-swim times, it’s important to prevent children from getting into the water without you knowing. To do this you can use fences, locks and alarms. Pools should have four-sided fences that are tall and climb-proof. Fencing should have a locked latch that is out of reach of children. You can also put alarms on your pool, fence or house doors to help alert you to your child’s activity. Additionally, children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, so make sure to drain bathtubs and other containers of water after use to help keep your children safe.

We are fortunate to have so many options in our region for recreating near water. Let’s regularly remind ourselves of these key ways to keep our children safe while having fun.

Whitney Sevey, MD, is a third-year Pediatrics resident at UVM Medical Center with an interest in primary care and preventative pediatrics.

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