Water Safety

In the United States, on average more than 1,000 children drown each year and more than 5,000 are seen in emergency rooms for injuries from near-drowning incidents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, drowning is the second leading case of unintentional death for children 1-14 years of age.

In Hawaii, and nationally, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children between 1-4 with majority of infant drowning deaths happening in bathtubs, large buckets and swimming pools.
In Hawaii, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for injury-related deaths for all children 1-17.  Ocean/salt water environment is the most common place for drowning for children 14-17.

Drowning prevention has been a priority issue for the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, Injury Prevention and Control Section (IPCS) since 1991. Swimming lessons is just one part of the prevention piece.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents use layers of protection such as:

  • All parents and caregivers should be trained in infant child CPR.
  • Closely supervising children at all times when in or around any body of water. Proper care of a young non-swimmer requires the supervising adult to be within an arm’s length and provide “touch supervision”.
  • Installing a four-sided fence around swimming pools. Compared with no fencing, installation of 4-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the house and yard has been shown to decrease the number of pool-immersion injuries.
  • When swimming in natural bodies of water or other sites accessible to the public, swim in designated swim areas with lifeguards present.

(Source: CDC, Safe Kids Worldwide, Hawai‘i State Department of Health)

Water Safety At Home


Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1 – 4 years old. Children less than a year old are more likely to drown at home in the bathroom or a bucket.


  1. Watch kids when they are in or around water, without being distracted. Keep young children within arm’s reach of an adult.
  2. Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools immediately after use. Store them upside down so they don’t collect water.
  3. Close toilet lids and use toilet seat locks to prevent drowning. Keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  4. Install fences around home pools. A pool fence should surround all sides of the pool and be at least four feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates.
  5. Know what to do in an emergency. Learning CPR and basic water rescue skills may help you save a life.

Resource: Safe Kids Worldwide, Water and Drowning Prevention, 2016

Pool Safety Checklist

  • Tips for Parents and Caregivers:
    • Watch kids when they are in or around water, without being distracted.  Keep children within arm’s reach. Make sure older children swim with a partner every time.
    • Teach children how to swim.  Every child is different, so enroll children in swim lessons when they are ready. Consider their age, development and how often they are around water.
    • Make sure kids know how to swim and learn these five water survival skills:
      1.  Step or jump into water over their head and return to the surface
      2.  Float or tread water for one minute
      3.  Turn around in a full circle and find an exit
      4.  Swim 25 yards to exit the water
      5.  Exit the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder
    • Install fences around home pools.  A pool fence should surround all sides of the pool and be at least four feet with self-closing and self-latching gates.
    • Empty kids’ pool after each use.  Store them upside down so they do not collect water.
    • Know what to do in an emergency.  Learning CPR and basic water rescue skills may help you save a child’s life.

    Resource: Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide, 2016 “Pool Safety Checklist. Tips for Parents”

    Be A Water Watcher

    Water Watcher is an adult who commits to watching children in the water, without being distracted. Using the Water Watcher system allows a group of parents to identify one adult for a limited amount of time, say 15 minutes, to be responsible for actively supervising the kids in the water before passing the responsibility on to the next adult.

    Families can download a free Water Watcher card at www.SafeKids.org. The card can be passed from one adult to another as a tangible symbol of who has Water Watcher responsibility.

    Check the Drains in Your Pool and Spa

    • Educate your children about the dangers of drain entanglement and entrapment and teach them to never play or swim near drains or suction outlets.

    • Pools that pose the greatest risk of entrapment are children’s public wading pools, in-ground hot tubs, or any other pools that have flat drain grates or a single main drain system.

    • For new pools or hot tubs, install multiple drains in all pools, spas, whirlpools and hot tubs. This minimizes the suction of any one drain, reducing risk of death or injury.

    • Regularly check to make sure drain covers are secure and have no cracks, and replace flat drain covers with dome-shaped ones. If a pool or hot tub has a broken, loose or missing drain cover, don’t use it.

    • Make sure your pool or hot tub’s drains are compliant with the Pool and Spa Safety Act. Go to www.PoolSafety.govfor a list of manufacturers of certified covers.

Common Misconceptions About Drowning

  • Parents’ Misconceptions:Nearly half of parents surveyed think that if a child was drowning nearby they would hear it.
    REALITY.  Drowning is silent.  There can be very little splashing, waving or screaming.1 out of 3 parents have left a child alone in a pool for two or more minutes.
    REALITY.  Drowning is quick.  Once a child begins to struggle, you may have less than a minute to react.More than half of parents surveyed think that when present, a lifeguard is the primary person responsible for their child’s supervision at the pool.
    REALITY.  Watching your child in the water is your responsibility.  A lifeguard’s job is to enforce rules, scan, rescue and resuscitate.60% of parents surveyed would not worry as much about drowning if their child has had swim lessons.
    REALITY.  Swim lessons are essential, but skill level varies.  A review of children who drowned in a pool revealed that 47% of 10-17 year olds reportedly knew how to swim.

Resources and Links