Ask a Nurse: How to Prevent Drowning Accidents

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.


Never Look Away!

How to prevent drowning accidents

When I was a child, I saved my cousin Johnny from drowning. We were in his pool splashing and playing, when I realized he had drifted into deeper water and was sinking under. I grabbed his hair and pulled him up; by that time all the adults were screaming and took over. I always felt bad about pulling him up by the hair, but when I got older my Aunt told me it didn’t matter how I did it, just that I did it was great. I ended up pulling several more kids out of the water when they were in trouble, one more as a kid and the latest one only a few years ago when I jumped in fully clothed because no one saw the child sinking and struggling!

Have you ever been to a public pool and felt you were the only one watching any of the babies and kids?  I got so stressed out watching (and rescuing) so many kids whose moms were oblivious! The last time I went to a public pool with all my kids was when I was pregnant with my sixth child, trying to watch my own kids, and rushing to help other toddlers whose parents were not paying attention! I honestly can’t stand the stress. Some say, “don’t stress, you’re only responsible for your own kids.” Well, that doesn’t work for me. When a child is having trouble and no one seems to notice, I am gonna pull that baby out!

Did you know that death by drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14? According to the CDC, for each child drowning death, about six children need hospitalization or emergency-department care for their near-drowning or non-fatal submersion injury.

We can’t expect lifeguards to see everyone at once, it just isn’t possible. Parents and care givers need to take responsibility for the children they care for and learn and follow safety guidelines to prevent drowning!

Here are some basic guidelines to help you:

  • Teach children how to swim

Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by as much as 88% among young children aged 1 to 4 years, who are at greatest risk of drowning. ( However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when in the water, and barriers to prevent unsupervised access (such as fencing) are necessary to prevent drowning.

  • Watch closely!

Always have a designated adult who knows how to swim (and knows CPR) watch the kids, even when lifeguards are present.  This person should ONLY be watching the kids! That means no talking on the phone, texting, reading or other distracting activities. Maybe you can take turns with other parents you know.

  • Learn CPR!

By knowing CPR, you may save a life before help can arrive.

  • Always have a lockable fence around any pool

 Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool, be at least 4 feet high, and have self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward, with latches that are out of the reach of children. Even if your pool is one you take down every year, if it can’t be emptied each night, it needs to be fenced in (separating the rest of the yard and house from the pool area). Don’t wait for an accident before you do this!

  • Use the buddy system!

Always swim with someone else, no matter how old or young you are! If one of you has a problem, the other will know and can help or get help. It just makes sense.

  • Swim where lifeguards are present

Choosing to swim where lifeguards are present is a safe choice.

  • Don’t rely on pool toys to keep your child safe

Inflatable toys, noodles, “swimmies” and infant rings are NOT life-savers! Many parents feel a false sense of reassurance when letting their children use these swim toys. If you read the instructions for these items, they are clearly NOT to be used as life-saving devices!  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have seen parents allow their young children in the pool with these toys, and not watch them!

  • No Alcohol!

Avoid drinking when swimming, boating or watching children swim. I don’t think I have to explain this one; we want to be alert in all these situations.

  • Don’t hyperventilate.

Swimmers should never hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out (sometimes called “shallow water blackout”) and drown. This is believed to be the cause of many drownings. For more information go to:

Have a safe a happy week!

Be Well,

Nurse Pam

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