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UC Davis Medical Center

UC Davis Medical Center

Drowning takes only seconds

Checkup On Health

Kids with life jackets and adult supervision © iStockphoto
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 vest in all public county waterways.

The days are longer, the weather is warming and summer will soon be upon us. Many people are eager to seek relief from the heat at the nearest body of water. However, pools, lakes, rivers, and the ocean claim thousands of lives each year.

To prevent water accidents, the proper safety precautions are crucial. Consider:

  • More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • In 2009, of all children 1 to 5 years old who died from an unintentional injury in California, over 30 percent died from drowning.
  • Although drowning rates have slowly declined, fatal drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 5 years in California (California Department of Public Health 2011).

“It is never okay to leave a child unattended in or around a pool, even for a few seconds” said Christy Adams, UC Davis trauma prevention coordinator. “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 arms reach of an adult when they are in or near the water.”

Teens also at risk

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 frequently occur in natural bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and oceans and 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.

Drowning prevention includes keeping a close watch on younger children in the house as well.  Children under one year 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” says Adams.

Watch children at all times

“It is never okay to leave a child unattended in or around a pool, even for a few seconds."
- Christy Adams, UC Davis trauma prevention coordinator

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

While your child is swimming, watch them at all times. Even running into the house to answer a phone call could be enough time for an accident to happen.

More prevention tips:

  • 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 thirty 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.
  • 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. Always look out for things that could pose a risk and take action to eliminate it.
  • 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 important

Click here for more water safety and life jacket information and resources from UC Davis Trauma Prevention and Outreach

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 accident 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 vest in all public county waterways.