Safety First: Water Safety

Supervision is the key to water safety.Summer in the Midwest means it’s time for water fun! Whether you and your children plan to splash in the pool, go to the lake or water park, or just have some fun in the tub, thinking about water safety is very important.

Imagine these scenarios:

The Johnson family is having a reunion at a hotel with a swimming pool. The cousins are having a great time in the pool while the adults are visiting nearby. The adults assume that everybody is watching the kids, but is anybody really watching?

Timmy is 18 months old and is playing in the yard while his mom sits nearby. Mom goes inside for just a minute. Even though the wading pool was emptied yesterday, last night’s rainfall has filled it with a couple of inches of water, and Timmy is heading in that direction.

Supervision is the key to water safety. Very young children can drown in as little as 2 inches of water. If they fall in head first and inhale water, they sometimes do not know enough to, or are not physically able to, get out of the water.

 Let’s start with some tips for water safety and drowning prevention in the home:

  •  Never leave a young child unattended in the bath or near water, even for a few seconds, or even if the baby is in a bath-restraint device. Continue to supervise children in the bathtub until at least age 6.
  • Use toilet-locking devices, and always empty buckets, coolers or other containers of water immediately.
    • Mobile infants and toddlers have large heads and tend to be “top heavy.” If they fall into one of these containers, they do not have the upper-body strength to get themselves out.
  • Be aware of the additional danger of combining water and electricity.
    • Be sure bathrooms are equipped with ground fault interrupter outlets.
    • Keep any electrical appliances — hair dryers, curling irons, radios, etc. — out of sight and out of reach in the bathroom.
  • Cover faucets that are accessible to children with a safety device that prevents them from turning on the water. Be sure your hot water heater is turned to a medium setting — about 120 degrees.
  • Empty wading pools after each use and turn them upside down. Watch for other areas in the yard where water might accumulate.
  • If you have a water feature or decorative pond in your yard, you will have to be extra careful. Remember, a toddler can drown in 2 inches of water.
  • Keep doors to the outside locked. You may want to install a door alarm so you know if your toddler or young child leaves the house.
  • If your home is near a creek, pond or other natural body of water, you may want to invest in a fence.

Safety Tips for Home Pools and Spas

 There were more than 200 child drowning in home pools and spas/hot tubs in the United States in the summer of 2013. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Rigid pool or spa covers are one of the best ways to provide safety for young children.
    • These devices can completely cover the water, preventing access.
    • Make sure the cover meets safety guidelines and regulations.
    • It should hold the weight of two adults and one child, in case someone has to go out onto the cover to help someone stranded there.
  • Check local regulations for fences and alarms. Consider adding an alarm system on doors leading to the pool or spa, and motion detectors that sense movement in the water.
  • Be sure your pool has safety devices like a water rescue ring, rope and pole; and know how to use them.
  • Learn CPR and keep current in the techniques.
  • Always have a charged phone near the pool.
  • Swimming lessons are a great idea for children but they do not drown-proof children. Don’t let the fact that your child can swim give you a false sense of security. Children in the pool must be supervised by an adult at all times.
  • Keep swimmers hydrated to avoid dizziness and lightheadedness.
  • Made sure drains, pipes and openings in pools or spas meet safety regulations; drains should be covered with federally approved drain covers to avoid suction entrapment.
  • Designate one person to be the “water watcher” when children are in the pool.

Forty-three percent of all child drownings happen in natural water settings like lakes, rivers and oceans. If your family spends time at the lake in the summer, pay attention to these additional tips:

  • Educate your children about the special safety precautions of lake swimming.
  • Children should never be on docks or in boats, even if anchored, without an adult supervising.
  • Check out the lake depth and check for underwater hazards like drop-offs and weeds that could cause foot entanglement.
  • Children should always wear a well-fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when in a boat. Consider using one when children are swimming in the lake, too. Water toys, like inflatable rings or water wings, will not protect your child.
  • Designate at least one person to be the “water watcher” while children are in the water.

Community and Hotel Pools

Your city swimming pool will usually have a lifeguard on duty. This does not mean you can let your guard down. You must still supervise.

  • Many community pools require that children age 6 and under are supervised by someone at least 16 years old, and that there are no more than five children under the age of 6 being supervised by one adult.  
  • Take the time to read the pool rules with your children. Teach your children that they must obey the lifeguard.
  • In a pool with no lifeguard, such as most hotel pools, always designate a “water watcher” while children are in the water.

 What is a water watcher?

 We see it all the time — a family reunion at the lake or a birthday party at a hotel pool with lots of kids in the water having fun and lots of adults nearby, eating, visiting and possibly drinking. Everyone assumes all the adults are watching the kids when, in reality, no one is really watching.

 The Independent Pool and Spa Service Association (IPSSA) promotes assigning an official water watcher at any water event. The water watcher wears a tag and agrees to the following:

  • I will devote my complete attention to supervising the children in the water.
  • I will not eat, drink, visit or use the phone while on duty
  • I will not leave the area without finding a replacement.
  • I will know how many children are in the pool at all times.

You can order an official water watcher tag from or you can make your own.

We hope you have a wonderful, safe summer!

Other Helpful Resources

Pool Safely

Safe Kids Worldwide

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

Safety First Series

This post is part of a “Safety First” series on children and safety. Check out these other safety-related posts: Poison Prevention Guidelines, Safety First: Could Your Child’s Toys Be Dangerous? , Safety First: Using the Right Crib and Safety First: How to Protect Infants and Young Children from Suffocation and Strangulation Hazards.

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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