UK HealthCare

As the Season for Water Activity Heats Up, Protect Young Swimmers Against Drowning

This column first appeared in the May 18 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 20, 2014) -- Many Kentuckians will commemorate the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend by splashing into a pool, boating on a lake or canoeing down a stream. As the season for recreational water activity gets under way, it's important to remember steps to keep children and adolescents safe.

Children and adolescents are at risk

Every year in Kentucky, an average of 14 children die by drowning. About half the drowning deaths occur among children ages 1 to 4. From 2009-11, 80 percent of childhood drowning deaths occurred at the child’s residence or someone else’s home. A quarter of drowning deaths occurred among adolescents, mostly while swimming, boating or fishing on lakes and rivers.


Supervise young children around water

Prevention of toddler and child drowning requires constant supervision around all types of water, including car-washing buckets, bathtubs, baby pools, ornamental ponds, swift-flowing creeks, pools and larger bodies of water. Toddlers can fall in and drown even in just a few inches of standing water in a bucket, so it's important to empty baby pools immediately after use.

Because drowning can happen swiftly and silently, a responsible adult or "water watcher" should actively supervise children at all times, even if lifeguards are present. They should be within arms-reach of toddlers and children who cannot swim. Floaties and waterwings are not sufficient life-saving devices. U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vests for the appropriate weight are needed, with supervision still needed.

Create barriers to water sources

Four-sided, 4-foot high fencing and a self-closing gate prevent your children and neighborhood children from falling into a backyard pool. Removing a ladder might be helpful for above-ground pools that are not fenced.

Teach children how to swim

Swimming lessons don’t ever replace supervision, but are a life-saving skill that should be learned The YMCA, Red Cross and university swim programs all offer lessons.

Wear a life-jacket on the water

While boating, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets should be worn at all times by all boaters for the best protection. As water distances can be deceptive when swimming, it's also important to remind teen swimmers of the dangers of fatigue. Never swim without a buddy and always remember that alcohol and boating never mix.

Recreational water activity is a great way to incorporate exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle for all ages. A bit of prevention will keep your water fun safe.

Dr. Susan Pollack is the director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Injury Prevention Program at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center and a pediatrician at Kentucky Children's Hospital.