Swimming pools can have a powerful pull on little children―even when it’s not swimming time. Those glistening turquoise-blue ripples may look especially inviting to an active toddler or an overly confident preschooler.
Kids can slip away from the watchful eyes of adults in seconds. It happens every day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several ways parents can help keep children safe around home swimming pools and hot tubs―all year long―in your own backyard, your neighbor’s, or on vacation.
Fact: Most drownings in kids 4 and under happen in home swimming pools.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) studied drownings among children age 4 and under in Arizona, California, and Florida, where pools are especially common. It found that nearly 70% of the children were not expected to be at or in the pool, yet they were found in the water. In fact, 46% of the children were last seen in the house.
Pool fences. Safety precautions not to ignore.
Pool fences are for above-ground pools that are portable as well as those that are permanent, in-ground pools, and hot tubs.
Between 2013 and 2015, most (58%) drownings among children age 4 and under took place in a pool or spa at their own home. Most children drowned when they wander out of the house and fell into a swimming pool that was not fenced off from the house. They slipped out a door, climbed out a window, or even crawled through a doggy door to access the pool.
But, a family swimming pool isn’t the only one a child can get into unnoticed. More than a quarter (27%) of drownings among children age 4 and under took place at the home of a friend, relative or neighbor. Only some individual states and municipalities have laws requiring pool safety fences; there is no national pool fence law. Whenever your child will be in someone else’s home, always check for ways your child could access pools and other potential hazards.
Fact: Fences are the most effective, proven way to prevent drowning of young children.
Pool Fencing Recommendations:
- 4 feet, 4 sides. The pool fence should be at least 4 feet high and completely surround the pool, separating it from the house and the rest of the yard.
- Climb-proof. The fence shouldn’t have any footholds, handholds, or objects such as lawn furniture or play equipment the child could use to climb over the fence. Chain-link fences are very easy to climb and are not recommended as pool fences. (If they are used, make sure openings are 1¾ inches or smaller in size).
- Slat space. To ensure a small child can’t squeeze through the fence, make sure vertical slats have no more than 4 inches of space between them. This will also help keep small pets safe, too.
- Latch height. The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate that only opens out, away from the pool area. The latch should be out of a child’s reach—at least 54 inches from the ground.
- Gate locked, toy-free. When the pool is not in use, make sure the gate is locked. Keep toys out of the pool area when it is not in use.
Alarms. A child drowning is rarely heard.
Beyond a fence, additional layers of protection such as pool alarms, door and gate alarms, and pool covers can provide some added safety around a pool. Make sure alarms are in good shape with fresh batteries, and keep in mind none are substitutes for a properly installed pool fence.
Drowning is silent. Alarms break that silence.
- Pool alarms. Children can drown within seconds, with barely a splash. Swimming pool alarms can detect waves on the water’s surface and sound off to attract attention when someone has fallen into the pool.
- Consider alarms on the pool fence gate and house doors. Door and gate alarms can be equipped with touchpads to let adults pass through without setting them off. House doors should be locked if a child could get to the pool through them.
- Window guards. These can be especially helpful for windows on the house that face the pool.
A word on pool covers:
Pool covers should cover the entire pool securely enough that a child can’t slip under them. Make sure no standing water collects on top—children can drown in less than 2 inches of water. Power-operated covers are often the safest and easiest to use. Remember: Floating solar and winter covers are not safety covers and can actually increase drowning risk. Because a floating cover makes the pool surface appear solid, a small child might try to retrieve a ball or other light toy that landed on it and quickly slip underneath—often trapped and hidden from view.
What Else Can Parents Do?
Even with safety measures in place, parents should be prepared in case that their child gets into a swimming pool unseen.
Some precautions that may help:
- Assign a water watcher. His or her job is to watch all children swimming or playing in or NEAR water―such as on a backyard swing set―even if they know how to swim. This person should:
- not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- put down his or her cell phone
- avoid other activities
- supervise even if there are lifeguards
- switch off with another adult for breaks
- Life jackets: Put your child in a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved life jacket when around or near water, such as when visiting a home with a pool.
- Swim lessons. The AAP recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning that can begin for many children starting at age 1.
- CPR training. Parents, caregivers, and pool owners should know CPR and how to get emergency help. Keep equipment approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, such as life preservers and life jackets at poolside.
- Check the water first. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first. This is especially important if your child is prone to wandering.
Last Updated: 7/13/2020. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.