Teach your children water safety

Water is essential to our daily lives and is also a source of recreation and fun. However, water can be dangerous, not only in areas of open water like the beach, rivers, lakes and streams, but also in pools, hot tubs and in your home.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children of any age, with those under the age of 5 being most at risk. Drowning happens in seconds, is often silent and can happen to anyone when there is access to water.

Keep your child safe by preventing unsupervised access to water, teaching them about water safety and making sure there is always a responsible adult giving their undivided and undistracted attention to them when they are playing in and around water. Teach your children never to go near or in water without an adult present.

Learn more about water safety

5 Layers of Protection

To keep your child safe around water, it’s crucial to implement the “5 Layers of Protection” from the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. These layers work together to prevent drowning incidents, especially for children. Each layer plays a vital role, and you never know which one might save a life.

Barriers and alarms:

  • Install four-sided fencing around pools and spas with self-closing gates.
  • Fencing around pools should be at least four feet high, with some municipalities requiring fencing up to five feet high. 
  • Use pool safety covers and alarm systems to prevent unsupervised access to water.


  • Always maintain close, constant and capable adult supervision when children are in or around water.
  • Put distractions, such as mobile devices, away so that attention is focused on the child in or near the water.
  • Never leave children unattended near water, even for a moment.

Water competency:

  • Equip everyone with basic water safety skills.
  • Teach children to float, tread water and swim.
  • Educate adults about water safety principles.

Life jackets:

  • Ensure proper use of life jackets, especially around open water.
  • Choose appropriately sized and Coast Guard-approved life vests.

Emergency preparation:

  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic water rescue techniques.
  • Keep a phone nearby to call 911 in case of emergencies.

Safe swimming

Whether in a pool or at the beach, follow these top swimming safety tips from Safe Kids Worldwide:

  • Watch kids when they are in or around water. Keep young children and weak swimmers within arm’s reach of an adult. Even more experienced swimmers should not swim alone.
  • Choose a Water Watcher. When there are several adults present, there can be a false sense of security that someone is watching the children. To ensure supervision, choose one adult to be responsible for watching children in or near the water for a certain period of time, such as 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, select another adult to be the Water Watcher. Water Watchers should be used even if a lifeguard is present. Lifeguards have many responsibilities. It is always best to ensure a designated adult is watching each child. 
  • To make children more visible in the water, have them wear brightly colored swimsuits, such as orange or yellow. Avoid blues or greens that blend in with the water. 
  • “Floaties,” armbands or water wings do not prevent children from drowning and can easily slip off, especially when kids jump into water. Water wings can produce a false sense of safety for parents and children and can inhibit a child’s ability to learn to swim.
  • Teach children how to swim. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting swim lessons between the ages of 1 and 4, depending upon when the child is developmentally ready.
  • Make sure kids learn these five water survival skills:
    • Step or jump into water over their head and return to the surface
    • Turn around in the water and orient to safety
    • Float or tread water
    • Combine breathing with forward movement in the water
    • Exit the water
  • Teach children that swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool. Be aware of situations that are unique to open water, such as limited visibility, depth, uneven surfaces, currents and undertow. These potential hazards can make swimming in open water more challenging than swimming in a pool.
  • Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills. It is important to know how to respond in an emergency without putting yourself at risk of drowning. Learning these skills may help you save a life.

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Swimming safety tips

Open water and boating safety

Most drownings of children and teens in the U.S. happen in open water. This includes natural bodies of  water such as lakes, rivers and oceans, as well as human-made bodies of water like canals, reservoirs and retention ponds. When planning to be in or near open water, follow these tips from the National Drowning Prevention Alliance:

  • Swim in a designated swimming area: most state parks, beaches and lakefront areas have designated times they allow swimming or lifeguards are present. Flags or barriers may be present to indicate safe areas in which people can swim. Never swim outside those defined areas.
  • When in doubt, get out: don’t hesitate to get out of the water if something doesn’t feel right. Whether the current is getting rough, rain is starting to fall, you are getting tired or experiencing muscle cramps, get out and return to the water another day. It’s always a good thing to trust your instincts.
  • Understand currents: riptides, other currents and waves can all sweep you away from your swimming route. To check if you are drifting, choose a stationary landmark on the shore and see if you are moving away from it.
  • Know the weather and water conditions: check the water temperature and weather conditions before hitting the water. If the water temperature is low, your best option would be to swim in a wetsuit and not stay in the water too long. Bear in mind it’s not safe to swim in the rain, particularly if there is thunder and lightning. If the weather changes, don’t hesitate to swim back to shore.
  • Never swim alone: when you head out into the open water, go with a “swim buddy,” someone who’s looking out for you and who you’re looking out for in turn. Remember, the lifeguard isn’t your “swim buddy.” They have lots of people to track when on duty. Besides, you’ll probably have more fun swimming with a friend.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or participating in other water activities. Life jackets should be worn by everyone, not just young children and weak swimmers, whenever they are in, on or around open water. Put life jackets on at the dock, deck or shore and don’t remove them until you return to dry land.
  • Choose the right equipment: it’s very important to choose the right equipment for your open water activity such as life jackets, wet suits and goggles. Please note that if water temperatures are more than 75 to 80 degrees, a wet suit might not be a good idea. Using one for extended periods could cause heat exhaustion.
  • Swim parallel to the shore: if you are ever caught in a rip current, don’t let fear cloud your judgment. You could be swept away very quickly. The best way to escape a rip current is by swimming parallel to the shore instead of toward it. Try to relax and breathe, keeping your head above water. Don’t wear yourself out by trying to get out of the rip current by swimming against it.
  • No alcohol or drugs: alcohol and drugs affect your perception of danger, making you more likely to take unnecessary risks. Alcohol and drugs also impair your balance and coordination, which are essential for swimming, boating and avoiding hazards in the water. So don’t use substances while in the water.
  • Have a plan for emergencies: always prepare for emergencies when you go out to the water. Tell someone else where you are going. Have someone watching from the shore, ready to act if you need help. Plan for every possible incident, and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

Additional tips when boating

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or participating in other water activities.
  • Swimming aids and water toys, such as water wings and inflatable water rings, do not prevent drowning.
  • Learn basic water rescue skills and CPR. It is vital to know how to respond in an emergency without putting yourself at risk of drowning.
  • Follow the U.S. Coast Guard recommendations for boating safety, as well as any local regulations for boating in the area.

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Boating safety tips

Water safety at home

Water safety is critical for all homeowners, even if you do not own a pool or hot tub. People can drown in as little as one inch of water. Active supervision and basic childproofing are critical - no exceptions. 

  • Young children should not be left unattended in the bathtub. An adult should always be within arm's reach.
  • Keep toilet lids closed and use toilet seat locks to prevent unintentional submersion. Small children can inadvertently lean in head first. Keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  • Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and inflatable or portable pools immediately after use. Store them upside down and out of children’s reach.
  • A swimming pool is a ton of fun for you and your kids. Make sure backyard pools have four-sided fencing that’s at least four feet high and has a self-closing, self-latching gate to prevent a child from wandering into the pool area unsupervised.
  • Make sure your home pool or spa has a proper drain cover or shut-off function to prevent long hair, loose clothing or body parts from getting trapped.
  • Remove toys, rafts, pool noodles and other items from the pool after use. If left in the pool, these items could tempt children to enter the water unsupervised.

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Water safety at home tips