Drowning Prevention and Water Safety, Children Ages Birth to 19 Years

Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related deaths in children of all age groups, with nearly 33 children ages birth to 19 years dying each year in New York State. Children aged one through four years are especially at risk, with 12 deaths coming from this age group alone. Near drowning incidents in NYS often result in lifelong medical conditions.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing drowning and near drowning incidents.

What are the leading causes of drowning in children?

  • Lack of adult supervision around water, pools, bathtubs, and buckets/pails of water.
  • Pools that do not have four-sided fencing that isolates a home swimming pool from the house.
  • Children swimming alone or children wandering into water.
  • Swimming in public areas where there are no lifeguards.
  • Not using approved life jackets while swimming and boating.

Are there any NYS laws about swimming pools that I should know about?

NYS law requires all public swimming pools built after March 30, 1998, to be enclosed within a fence or other barrier which is at least four feet high and can be entered by bathers only through self closing and positive self-latching doors or gates.

What can I do to keep my child safe around water and prevent drowning?

  • Always supervise young children while in a bathtub. Never leave younger children alone around water in the care of older siblings. Children can drown in as little as two inches of water.
  • Make sure that toilet seat covers are left down and pails or buckets of water are emptied as soon as possible and not left unattended.
  • Children and teens should not engage in risk taking behavior, like rough play while swimming or boating. These activities lead to many drowning or near drowning injuries.
  • Make sure your child is aware that open waters, such as lakes, rivers and oceans have currents, rocks and uneven surfaces, which may be unfamiliar and pose hazards to swimmers.
  • Make sure your child never swims alone, especially in unfamiliar water.
  • Teach your child how to swim. Not being able to swim (or overestimating swimming abilities) may lead to injuries. However, knowing how to swim alone does not prevent drowning.
  • If your child has a medical condition, such as a seizure disorder or heart condition, make sure he or she takes special care when swimming. Drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death for persons with seizures.
  • Water temperature is an important factor that contributes to drowning as cold water can lead to hypothermia, or lowered body temperature.

What are some other safety tips that I should be aware of besides close adult supervision?

  • The use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid and calling 911 can save a life and minimize injury. The use of the Heimlich Maneuver (abdominal thrusts) is not recommended for use with potential drowning victims as a first line therapy; it may delay the onset of CPR and may induce vomiting and choking on stomach contents.
  • Personal floatation devices (life jackets) should be approved and should not take the place of adult supervision. Air-filled swimming aids, such as water wings and floats, should not to be used in place of approved personal floatation devices.
  • Pool alarms and pool covers should not be used in place of a four-sided fence because they are not likely to be used appropriately and consistently. Some types of pool covers present an additional hazard for young children. A young child could be trapped under non-rigid pool covers or try to walk on the pool surface and fall into the pool.

Where can I find more information on water safety and drowning prevention?