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Water Safety Can Prevent Thousands of Summer Childhood Tragedies

July 10, 2007

Everyone knows it’s important to learn to swim and be careful around water.

Everyone knows it’s important to learn to swim and be careful around water. In spite of this, families all over the country lose children to preventable tragedies every year. Fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children. In 2004 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) reported approximately 4,000 deaths resulting from water accidents, averaging nine per day. Non-fatal drownings are nearly five times higher in number, and can cause severe difficulties including brain damage, memory problems, learning disabilities or permanent loss of basic functioning. Drownings increase greatly in summer when children play at beaches, swimming pools, lakes, rivers and even small backyard wading pools.

The good news is most of these incidents can be prevented. “Water safety must be addressed with all families. Children come to Emergency Departments all over the country due to tragic water accidents, and we must remain vigilant in providing education, creating awareness and media coverage of this ongoing issue,” says Linda Quan, MD, emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle. “Areas of the country with rivers, beaches or lakes are especially vulnerable, but children can drown in just a few inches of water so everyone needs this information. A tiny backyard plastic pool or bucket can still cause tragedy.” Dr. Quan goes on to note that males and minorities are traditionally at higher risk for water accidents, perhaps due to social and cultural issues including aggressive play, lack of exposure to water activities and less awareness of water safety education.

Helpful tips for all families include:

  • Choose to swim or play near water where there’s a trained lifeguard. An adult in your group should also supervise your children, since lifeguards are often busy watching large numbers of people.
  • Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life vest when on, in or near water, even if not swimming. Parents should model good life vest behavior, too. Water toys, inner tubes, foam noodles and water wings are NOT life preservers and shouldn’t be used as such.
  • Avoid alcohol whenever swimming, boating or playing around water.
  • Appoint an adult in your group to watch children at all times. Many accidents happen when an adult is momentarily distracted while talking on the phone, visiting or involved with another child. Take turns with this responsibility and assign a specific person to be watchful. It only takes a moment for tragedy to happen.
  • Keep young children within immediate reach at all times anywhere near water.
  • Provide and encourage swimming lessons during childhood, but know that even strong, skilled swimmers can be disabled by moving currents, water temperature, lack of life vests, objects in the water, tripping or falling and other unpredictable scenarios. Plan for anything.
  • Never turn your back on the water or any child playing near water. Remember: water that appears peaceful can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.
  • Keep all pools fenced with functioning, self-closing, self-latching gates. Keep hot tubs covered.
  • Know the water where you’ll be. Even on the hottest summer days currents and temperatures can be deceiving, overwhelm a swimmer and cause drowning.
    With vigilance, planning and care, summer and vacation times can remain fun and safe around water. For more information on water safety and drowning, please visit:

Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Information 

About Seattle Children’s

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Seattle Children’s has been delivering superior patient care while advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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