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Drowning Prevention and Pool Safety

The most common definition of drowning is respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid. We most often associate drowning with water related accidents such as swimming in a swimming pool or a natural body of water like the ocean or a lake, however water submersion can occur even in a puddle. Age wise, for infants less than a year old, most drownings occur in the bathtub.

Swimming pools are the common site of drownings for children between ages 1-4 yrs. Statistically drowning is the leading cause of death in this age group. Natural water such rivers, lakes, and the oceans account for about 40% of drownings for the 5-14 age group, and swimming pools for about 30 % of drownings in this same age group. For ages 15 and older drownings occur most frequently in natural water.

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A simple and important axiom of drowning prevention is understanding that a body of water is all that is necessary for drowning to occur. Drowning prevention aims at minimizing risk of submersion in water. Drowning typically occurs quickly and quietly. When drowning occurs, it is especially important to recognize the signs of a drowning person. A drowning victim typically cannot speak. Rescue depends not only on the trained eye of the lifeguards, but also on public awareness to quickly identify a drowning victim. Finally once resuscitation has occurred, it is necessary to understand the follow up care needed to prevent both immediate and long-term adverse outcomes.


Learn how to swim: Swimming lessons are particularly important to decreasing the risk of drowning. Swimming lessons do not mean that children can be unsupervised while swimming. Swimming with another person, is a straightforward way to ensure an early alert if your buddy is in trouble.

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When children are in the water, having each child supervised by an adult is important. The supervising adult should focus entirely on watching the swimmers. Looking up from a phone, book, or being impaired in any way (ex: using alcohol) does not qualify as supervision.

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Life jackets decrease the risk of drowning. Life jackets are recommended for any person while boating. Life jackets should be used at any age if the swimmer is not a strong swimmer or has little swimming experience. It is important to note that foam toys, and floatation devices that are air filled are not meant to be used as safety devices.

Familiarize yourself with the body of water you are swimming in. Read the signs on beaches as to water conditions such as currents, undertows, rip tides. Be aware of impending weather changes that may cause flooding, or thunderstorms and lightening. Public beaches usually have a lifeguard during peak swimming times. Consult the lifeguard with any concerns or simply to ask if there are water conditions to alert to.

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As with any activity do not swim if you are impaired. Impairment can be due to multiple causes, including medications, drugs, alcohol, or tiredness for any reason.

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Toddlers can often wander into back yard pools. A toy in the water might result in wandering into the pool or falling in trying to reach the toy. For the protection of children enclose your pool. A fence should be a minimum of four feet high and should enclose the pool completely separating the pool from the house. An important safety feature is a self- closing and self -latching.

Once again, remember drowning can happen in any body of water. Drowning often has no warning signs and is typically silent.   A person who is drowning typically cannot call for help. Thus, QUIETNESS is a sign of drowning.  A person who is drowning may be gasping for air or taking rapid deep breaths. Thus, HYPERVENTILATING OR GASPING FOR AIR is a sign of drowning.

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A person who is drowning may have their head tilted back and mouth open or head low in the water and mouth at water level. Thus, ABNORMAL HEAD FLEXION is a sign of drowning.

A person who is drowning may have obvious signs of struggling to swim. Thus, FLAILING ARMS and INABILITY to MOVE LEGS may be a sign of drowning.

A person who is drowning may appear to be upright in the water with head tilted back and arms outstretched. Thus, a VERTICAL POSITION may be a sign of drowning.

A person who is drowning may be glassy eyed or unable to keep their eyes open. Thus, GLASSY EYES OR A FAR AWAY LOOK may be a sign of drowning.

A person who is drowning may have skin color changes from lack of oxygen. Thus, a person with BLUE OR BLUE GREY SKIN may be a sign of drowning.


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  • Call for help immediately if you are concerned someone is
  • If the water conditions are safe and you can safely pull the person onto dry land, do
  • Check for Breathing and pulse and perform CPR or rescue breathing if there is a pulse until help arrives.
  • Immobilize the head and neck if
  • Drowning victims can have complications that are not apparent without the proper evaluation of medical All drowning victims require medical evaluation in an Emergency Room.

Remember the saying “Reach and Throw – Don’t Go.“ Assess your surroundings looking for something that floats that a victim can grab hold of: A tube or life jacket, or a seat cushion or a long pole to grab onto to pull the victim to safety.

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The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is a non-profit organization with a mission to save lives related to water safety. Recommendations from this organization if you are drowning is summarized by ‘’FLIP, FLOAT AND FOLLOW”: Flip on your back, float with your head above water and follow whatever path will safely get you to the shore.  Watch this video for more information

A different technique developed by Fred Lanoonue who was a swim coach at Georgia Tech University, called drown proofing.

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How to Drown Proof:

  • Take a deep breath, fill lungs with air.
  • Relax and float in water with back of head and hands as only parts of the body above the water.
  • When sufficiently rested, take a deep breath, push down with hands so that your mouth is above water and take a deep breath
  • Repeat every 10-15 secs as necessary
  • Attached to article is a video of this technique.

Finally, any near drowning victim should be evaluated at a medical facility. Drowning victims can aspirate water, leading to respiratory distress and pneumonia. Lack of oxygen to the brain can result in brain damage and should be assessed and treated. Drowning results in a disruption of the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. This too, needs assessment.


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The notion that all dogs like or intuitively know how to swim is false. Breeds like pugs and bulldogs have shorter snouts and big chests. Chest size makes the dog top heavy, and thus swimming may tire the dog more easily, or be difficult for the dog. Other dogs are amazing swimmers like Labs and Golden Retrievers. These dogs can be zealous swimmers and may therefore overdo it. Puppies are not natural swimmers and can tire easily. When training any dog to swim choose a quiet section and shallow water. A leash is advised. Evaluate your dog’s abilities and always watch your pet while swimming.

Awareness of yourself, other swimmers and water conditions can become ingrained, and safety considerations automatic. We can continue to enjoy our time at the beach or pool, have fun, relax, and make wonderful memories while simultaneously being safe and prepared for the unexpected.