Children and Pools – no child is drown-proof

boy pushing girl at poolside

Children and pools can be a deadly combination. Such was nearly the case that hot summer day back in 1973.

We were enjoying our new in-ground pool. Our neighbor, who generally kept to herself, asked if she could bring her two children over to swim. She likely never expected anything bad to happen, nor did we as we continued playing as though they weren’t even there.

One minute 5-year-old Mark was playing by himself in the shallow end. The next minute he was on the bottom of the deep end and no one knew it. Thankfully my sister saw him, brought him up and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He began breathing on his own and his color returned to his face as the Fire Department arrived. By God’s grace, Mark survived.

That was 45 years ago. I have no idea what Mark is doing today, but I know that had my sister not had first aid training the week before this incident occurred, things could have turned out quite differently.

Statistics – the sad and sickening facts

I generally avoid using statistics because I want us to focus on not becoming a statistic. However, I believe it’s important for us to look at some numbers so we can better understand the need for being vigilant around pools, spas and, yes, bathtubs. I trust the following information will help raise your awareness of the dangers associated with children around water and what you can do to help prevent tragedies.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), in the United States:

  • 3,786 people died from drowning in 2016 (the most recent data available at the time of this writing);
  • 463 of these (more than 12%) were unintentional drownings of children ages 1 to 4 (bathtubs, toilets and buckets can even pose a danger for very young children);
  • on average, 9 people die from drowning every day;
  • most drownings of young children occur as the result of them falling into a pool or being left alone in a bathtub.

The USA Swimming Foundation reports that:

  • 90 children younger than 15 drowned in a pool or spa in the first five months of 2018;
  • about 19 children drown during the July 4th holiday every year.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that:

  • between 2015 and 2017, nearly 3/4 of the drownings of children younger than 15 occurred in residential locations (it is my understanding this includes pools, spas and bathtubs, not just swimming pools);
  • twice as many boys than girls younger than 15 drown;
  • unintentional drownings are higher among one- and two-year-olds;
  • drownings continue to be the second leading cause of preventable death through age 15.

What YOU can do – yes, it’s up to YOU!

There are several lines of defense to help protect your child from drowning. Every one is important.

These rules apply to parents, grandparents and caregivers.

“The most critical line of defense is adult supervision. No level of aquatic skill can replace active supervision. If your child is ever missing, look in the water first.”. Infant Swimming Resources (ISR).

Never leave your child alone

Flotation devices are not babysitters. Lifeguards are not babysitters. Whether in the pool or around the pool area, never leave your child alone. If you need to leave, take your child with you. Do not leave your child in the care of someone you aren’t sure will be vigilant in watching him or her.

Enroll your child in swimming lessons

My daughter immediately enrolled her 1-year-old daughter in an Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Self-Rescue course when her in-laws had an in-ground pool installed. She followed up with additional swimming lessons, and four years later, at the age of 5, her daughter swims like a fish.

Swimming lessons are important, but please understand they do not make your child “drown-proof”.

Always keep your eyes on your child – NO DISTRACTIONS

As a parent, you and you alone are responsible for watching your child. One pool safety organization recommends assigning an adult Water Watcher (click here to watch their video). I am not opposed to their recommendation, but I never allowed someone else to be responsible for my children around water.

Because of my daughter’s and son-in-law’s schedules, they have no choice but to leave their children with his parents who now have an in-ground pool. I like my daughter’s rule for her two small children – one adult per child. She insists that rule be followed. Now, whether they follow it or not we’ll probably, and hopefully, never know.

While watching your child, you must not allow any distractions. Your cell phone would be considered a distraction, just as it is when you are driving. You should have your cell phone with you in case of an emergency, but you should not touch it, not even to see who’s texting you, or calling you, or whatever. Your sole responsibility is to watch your child!

Teach your child to stay away from drains and suction ports – they’re deadly

safe pool drain covers

Children and adults have drowned in pools and spas when trapped in the water by suction from drains. According to The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), a federal law enacted in 2008 regarding pool and spa drain covers applies to public and private (residential) pools. The purpose of the law is to mandate special drain covers to protect children and adults from being trapped in the water by drain suction. If you have a pool, be sure you understand how the laws pertaining to drain covers in residential pools and spas apply to you.

Even if your drain covers are compliant with current standards (and they should be), always teach your child to stay away from drains and suction ports. If in doubt, contact your professional pool company. Replace missing or damaged covers immediately with a safety drain cover that meets current safety standards. If your child is at someone else’s pool, you should be there also. Visually inspect the drain covers; if any is flat, damaged, or missing, keep your child out of that  pool. There should be two drains at the bottom of newer pools. Both drains should have anti-entrapment covers (not flat).

As of December 19, 2008, all pool and spa drain covers must meet certain standards. Check with authorities in your jurisdiction for laws that apply to your location. Whether your home falls under any code restrictions, you should keep up to date all safety standards. YOU CANNOT GRANDFATHER SAFETY.

Pool rules – written or not, use common sense

pool rules sign

As noted above, nearly three-fourths of the drownings of children younger than 15 occurred in residential locations. Of all the residential pools I inspected, I never saw any rules posted. Whether posted or not, make sure your child knows and understands safety rules in and around pools.

Many children sustain injuries in and around pools serious enough to require a trip to the emergency room. Ways to help eliminate or at least reduce the need for treatment are:

  • no horseplay – there are so many ways to have fun in a pool without rough-housing;
  • no running – pool decks and walkways around the pool can be slippery when wet; trust me, I had my share of shin-bangers when I was younger;
  • no one, regardless of age, should ever swim alone; I’ll spare you the details, but I had an incident in which my dad had to pull me out of the pool – and I was a good swimmer (still am);
  • make sure your children know and understand all rules and the consequences for breaking them;
  • immediately enforce all rule infractions; there’s no such thing as a small infraction;
  • a simple consequence would be removal of swimming privileges for x-amount of time.

Learn CPR and rescue techniques

Mark, the 5-year-old in the above account, was spared from dying and possible brain damage because God used my sister’s knowledge of CPR. She had just taken the CPR course a week or so prior to Mark’s incident.

Many places offer CPR and first aid courses. Whether you have a pool or not, you probably have a bathtub. I strongly encourage you to take a CPR course or Basic Life Support (BLS) course. Grandparents and caregivers, this applies to you as well.

Safety devices for the home swimming pool

Along with the tips listed above, certain safety devices, properly installed and maintained, are necessary to help protect little ones from drowning. There are many rules and codes that apply to pool safety – too many to list here. Keep in mind I am not a code inspector. You should contact a professional pool company for complete information regarding pool safety.

  • The pool should be properly enclosed with an approved, well maintained fence – not corroded or damaged;
  • If the house is part of the enclosure, doors and windows facing the pool should be locked and be properly alarmed;
  • Gates should be self-closing and self-latching;
  • Check the mounting hardware and posts of ladders for corrosion and damage;
  • For above ground pools, raise or remove ladders when the pool is not in use;
  • If you have a pool you should also have a pool cover, and you should keep the pool covered when the pool is not in use.

Final thoughts

Whether at home or away, be aware of your surroundings. Adhering to safety guidelines that are within your control will help keep your child safe and give you peace of mind. If you don’t have peace of mind over a situation, keep your child out of that situation. Sadly, many parents are living with regrets, saying or at least thinking, “If only…”.

Based on your experience, what message do you have that you would like to share with others? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Best Regards,



Additional resources Safety Barrier Guidelines for Pools.pdf

6 thoughts on “Children and Pools – no child is drown-proof

  1. Hi Rick, what an awful experience for you when you were a child. Those statistics made my eyes pop out, that’s unbelievable that so many kids have drowned just in one year! And it’s so sad as it can so easily be avoided by teaching your child to swim, and most importantly being more vigilant.

    Thanks for raising awareness to this fact and offering solutions; this post could literally save lives.

    1. Stefanie,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply I also appreciate your encouraging words. My desire is to remind everyone to take safety very seriously and will share this with family and friends.

      Best Regards


  2. Hi Rick,

    That’s really unfortunate that those stats are as high as they are. We don’t have a pool in our residence and the bathrooms are mostly inaccessible to our 17-month old but she’s almost never alone except when she is asleep. To be honest, after reading this I wouldn’t want a pool around until she is much older. I already have enough to worry about. I’ve been thinking about getting CPR training just in case of choking but now I’ll add this reason as well.
    Thanks for posting this information to make people more aware.

    1. Tina,

      It’s good you’re keeping your bathrooms inaccessible to your toddler daughter. And I agree that, if you were to get a pool, it would be a good idea to wait until she’s much older. My daughter was very unhappy to hear that her in-laws were getting a pool, and that’s why she sent her daughter to the Infant Swimming Resource class. Although she now swims like a fish, I still pray for her safety when I know she’s there.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. Best of everything to you and your family!

      Best Regards,


  3. Hi, Rick! Thank you so much for such informative article! Those statistics makes me sad. We parents, have to be always cautious, even if our kids are great swimmers, because accident happens unfortunately.

    1. Alona,

      You hit the nail on the head – it’s up to us as parents (in my case, grandparents) to be cautious. Whether around water or at the mall or Kroger, I never take my eye off my grandkids.

      Thanks for taking time to read and reply. I hope many will pass this on to family and friends.

      Best Regards,


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