Resources for Parents, Children and Teens

Facts About Teen and Young Adult Drownings

Know the water. Know your limits. Wear a life jacket.


  • Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death for 15-to-19-year-olds in Washington state.* From 2007 to 2011, there were 35 unintentional drownings among Washington youth ages 15 to 19.
  • The ratio of teenage drowning deaths in Washington State is about 10 males to every one female.
  • More teens and young adults die from drowning than young children do in our state. From 2007 to 2011, 43 children ages 9 and younger died compared to 52 teens and young adults. The highest rate of drowning for all ages up to age 85 is among 15-to-24-year-olds.


  • Most counties in Washington State reported at least one drowning among teens and young adults in the past five years.
  • The majority of drowning among teens and young adults occurred in lakes and rivers.
  • Most drownings occur while teens and young adults are swimming, wading or when they jump or fall out of small boats. Of drowning deaths among Washington state 15-17-year-olds between 1999 and 2001, 40% were swimming, 16% were boating and 16% were wading in the water. Most of the victims were with a friend or family member.


  • Life jackets are not being worn. Surveys in our state show that only 50% of adolescents and 22% of adults wear a life jacket while in a small boat. When adults wear a life jacket in a boat, teens are significantly more likely to wear one too.
  • Young people may not be aware of risks and safety measures in lakes and rivers.
  • A swimmer's strength is overpowered by water conditions (i.e., current, cold water, depth and objects in water).
  • Teens and young adults may have inadequate skills to judge water conditions and/or their swimming or boating ability.
  • Sometimes alcohol or drugs are being used while swimming or boating.
  • Many youth have never learned how to swim.

Prevention Strategies

  • Know the water. 
    Take into consideration the water conditions and the availability of life jackets before going out on the water. Cold water, river currents and riptides are a danger, even in summer.
  • Know your limits. 
    Know the situations that pose a risk for drowning: being in small boats without wearing a life jacket, swimming in cold water or away from shore in a lake or river, and swimming, wading or boating when rivers are running high from snowmelt or heavy rain. 
    Learn to swim well and test swimming skills in safe open water areas.
  • Wear a life jacket. 
    Wear life jackets in boats, especially in small boats. You can also use life jackets when swimming in unsupervised, cold or fast moving water. 

* Note: Automobile crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury death in this age range.

Sources: Seattle Children's and Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics and Child Death Review Program