Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Water Safety

Drowning prevention information from Safe Kids Florida Suncoast

Water can provide fun activities for children and families, but it can also pose dangers for children of all ages. It’s important to understand the risks and establish safety practices to help keep your family safe in and around the water.

Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for children under 5 years old. An average of 74 children have died each year over the past decade due to drowning – the equivalent of four preschool classrooms each year. According to state and national data, 76% of drownings of children under 5 happen in residential pools. 

Tips for water safety

Drowning is a silent danger. Adults may assume they will hear a splash as a child falls into the pool, but children often slide into the water without making a sound. Most young children gain access to the pool when it’s least expected, and you will not hear splashing, yelling or crying because children will rapidly sink toward the bottom of the pool.

The most important thing you can do is to always watch children when they are in or around water of any kind – whether it’s a pool; a pond, lake or other body of water; or water around the home, like the bathtub or toilet.

In Florida, water is everywhere. It is important to implement layers to slow a child down when they may gain access to a body of water whether it is your residential pool, lake across the street, or a canal. 

Swim lessons are also important and are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children over age 4. (Swim lessons may also be beneficial in helping children younger than 4 get used to being in the water.) Learning how to swim is an important life skill and aspect to drowning prevention.

However, regardless of your child’s age and skill level, swim lessons do not make anyone “drowning proof.” Swim lessons are just one of many water safety steps you should take:

  • Designate a water watcher who will keep an eye on the pool. The job can be passed on from one adult to another, but it must always be made very clear who is in charge of watching the pool at any given moment.
  • Know what to do in an emergency, including calling 9-1-1. Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills.
  • When you’re serving as the water watcher, avoid distractions like cell phones or side conversations. Younger children especially should always be within an arm’s length of a watchful adult when they are in or around water.
  • Pools should be enclosed by a four-sided fence, with a self-latching, self-closing gate. Keep objects away from the fence that children could use to climb over it, like furniture or pool toys.
  • Use other devices like alarms and pool safety covers. Homes with pools should have alarms on any doors or windows with direct access to the pool. But remember that no device can replace careful supervision and designating a water watcher.  
  • Children can drown even in very small amounts of water, so empty or drain buckets, bathtubs, kiddie pools, or other items around the house that contain water when not in use. Never leave a child or children unattended in a bathtub, not even if it is for a quick second to grab a towel.
  • Think about any other places with water in and around your home, and how you can secure those areas. For example, keep the lid down on the toilet seat and use a toilet seat lock. Keep the bathroom and laundry room doors closed. Keep any pet water bowls out of areas that children can access. Ask yourself – would my child be able to accidentally exit the house and reach my or neighbor’s pool? If the answer is yes, it is time to act to prevent them from leaving the house.
  • Children should always wear a life jacket that fits snugly and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard on boats, around open bodies of water or when participating in water sports or recreation. 
  • Teach children that swimming in open water like lakes or the ocean is different from swimming in a pool. They need to be aware of things like uneven surfaces, currents, undertow and how weather changes can affect the water.

This infographic from Safe Kids has more information about water safety, including water survival skills that are important for children to learn.

Finding swim lessons in your area

Learn more about swim lessons offered in your county:

To request a Water Watcher badge that your designated water watcher can use as a reminder to practice active supervision in and around the pool, contact Safe Kids supervisor Petra Vybiralova at pvybira1@jhmi.edu.

About Safe Kids Florida Suncoast's water safety initiatives

Safe Kids Florida Suncoast, led by Johns Hopkins All Children’s, is a coalition of community organizations and partners committed to preventing injuries in children and adolescents, including reducing child drownings and other water-related deaths and injuries.

Some ways we do this include: 

  • Working to increase the number of homeowners who install barriers, doors, pool alarms and fencing, promoting additional “layers of protection” in and around their pools and home.
  • Educating families on the importance of water watchers.
  • Conducting a water safety curriculum with pre-school and kindergarten-age children, reaching more than 2,000 students annually.
  • Conducting neighborhood canvassing in areas with large numbers of backyard pools and high incidences of drowning or near drowning of young children, with the help of individual homeowner associations.
  • Creating water safety videos and public service announcements, which are distributed and shown statewide on multiple sites, including Johns Hopkins All Children’s, Safe Kids member agencies, television and social media.
  • Creating and staffing water safety displays at multiple venues throughout each of the counties the coalition serves.
  • Distributing information on where families can register for water safety and swim lessons.

Learn more about Safe Kids Florida Suncoast or find out how your organization can become a member of the coalition.  

Contact Us 

For more information on Safe Kids Florida Suncoast, please call us: 

727-767-7835 or 800-756-7233 
Press ext. 1 for Manatee, Pinellas or Sarasota, or ext. 2 for Pasco or Polk. 
 

Read more:

Preventing Kids from Drowning

Patrick Mularoni, M.D., provides tips for parents and caregivers on pool safety.

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Water safety: How to keep kids safe in and around water

Changes in routine and new distractions while families are home together can pose challenges in keeping kids safe from unintentional injuries. Petra Vybiralova, Safe Kids supervisor, provides water safety tips for families.

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