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Water and Pool Safety

Why is water and pool safety so important?
Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death for children younger than five in the United States, and rates are highest among 1- to 2-year-olds. .  The risks of drowning are different for children of different ages and in different settings. Find out more about drowning risks.

Other risks in and around water include spinal cord injuries from diving, contagious illness spread through swimming water, and boating safety. Read on to find out more.

When is it safe to get a swimming pool in our yard?
Swimming pools are the number one drowning risk for preschoolers.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)recommends against putting a swimming pool in your yard until your children are all over five years old.  Children tend to slip silently into the water when they drown.  They do not usually splash or make a sound.  A child can drown silently within 30 seconds.

What water safety rules should I know, follow and teach my children?

Will my child be safe if they have taken swimming lessons?
Water introduction and swim classes are fun for your young child and help prepare them to learn to swim. But parents should never be lulled into thinking that their child is safe near the water, even if the child has had swimming or water instruction. Most kids age four or over are ready to start to learn how to swim. Each child will be ready to learn in their own time, depending on their development. Parents may want to think about whether their young child will swallow pool water or be exposed to pool chemicals.

Do I still have to be careful if I have my pool fenced?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that pool fencing alone is not enough to prevent drowning.  Don’t let a pool fence give you a false sense of security.  It is no substitute for supervision by adults who are trained in CPR, and having a telephone and rescue equipment poolside.

What about safety in spas, hot tubs and whirlpool tubs?
The safety concerns in spas, hot tubs, and whirlpools include drowning, hair entanglement in the powerful suction, parts of the body getting stuck in the suction drains, and overly hot temperatures.  The CPSC has information about the potential hazards of spas, hot tubs and whirlpools and the safety precautions you can take to protect your family. 

What are the risks of spinal cord injury while diving?
Each year, about 6,000 young people under the age of 14 are hospitalized because of a diving injury. One in five of those will suffer a severe spinal cord injury.

Prevent diving injuries:

Watch this video that tells the story of a young Michigan man who injured his spine diving into a lake.

Where can I learn about preventing the spread of illness through swimming water?
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses that are spread through contact (swallowing, breathing or just touching) with contaminated water.  This can happen in pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans.  The most common illness is diarrhea, which can be caused by many different germs that can be spread in swimming water.

The great news is that, in pools, germs causing RWIs are killed by chlorine. However, chlorine doesn’t work right away. It takes time to kill germs and some germs like “Crypto” are resistant to chlorine and can live in pools for days. That is why even the best maintained pools can spread illness. You can help stop germs from getting in the pool in the first place with healthy swimming behaviors.   Healthy swimming behaviors are needed to protect you and your kids from RWIs. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you can do to promote healthy swimming:

For more information on RWIs:

What about boating safety?
Practice and teach your children safe boating practices. Make sure your kids always wear their life jackets while boating. Be aware of the level of skill and judgment needed to safely operate a boat, jet ski, or other watercraft; make sure your child is mature and well-trained before you let them take the controls.

Where can I find more information?


Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N.  Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan

Updated May 2010


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U-M Health System Related Sites:
U-M Pediatrics

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