Water Safety - Drowning Prevention

Safe Spot Foundation Water Safety Resources and Information

The facts

  • Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide.
  • In Australia drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1-3 years.
  • Australia has a total average cost of drowning and drowning related injury of over 118 million dollars. (i)

What You Should Do In A Drowning Emergency.

  • Check to see if there is any immanent danger which would prevent you from removing the person from the water.
  • If it is safe to do so, get the person out of the water immediately, then check to see if he or she is breathing on their own. If they are not, begin CPR immediately. If possible, call emergency services on the number applicable to your country. Australia 000, NZ 111, USA 911.
  • If someone else is present, send them to call for emergency medical help. Do not waste time searching for a telephone or someone else to offer assistance. The person in danger must be your priority at all times.
  • Concentrate on giving the person in need of help rescue breathing and CPR and continue until they are breathing on their own.
  • Only when the person's breathing has resumed should you stop and seek emergency help. Once medical help arrives allow the medical team to take control of the situation.

The Dangers Of Dry Drowning.

What is "Dry Drowning?"

There is some debate about the definition of the term "dry drowning"– usually this term refers to situations where some water got in a child's lungs and the child has a severe inflammatory reaction to the water hours after the incident. This phenomenon is also called "secondary drowning," or "near drowning."

There is another phenomenon, also sometimes called "dry drowning," in which suffocation occurs but no water ever entered the lungs. In these rare situations, the larynx (voice box) spasms and stays shut, causing involuntary suffocation. Sometimes this spasm is triggered by water droplets hitting the larynx, or a sudden high speed submersion under water such as off a high-dive or a high speed water slide. This latter form of dry drowning generally doesn't occur when kids are simply swimming or playing in the pool. These patients are also immediately ill. They may never come up from the water.

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Dry or Delayed Drowning

What are the warning signs and symptoms of "dry" or delayed drowning? When do parents have to worry about a child who had trouble while swimming?

These are reasons to bring your child to the emergency room, even if they look fine:

  • Coughing: Any person who has persistent coughing after playing in the water is at risk for water in their lungs. You may be thinking, "But this happened to me a million times when I was a kid." But what was your oxygen level while you were sleeping that night?  You may have dropped and no one ever knew. Don't go to bed worrying, just take your child in for evaluation.
  • Water rescue: Any person who was submerged in water and came up struggling, especially if he or she had to be retrieved from the water by a lifeguard, parent, or other bystander needs medical evaluation. This may seem obvious, but I've seen kids get back in the pool and play after a water rescue.
  • Amnesia: Any person who was unconscious underwater or has limited memory of an incident that occurred in water needs immediate medical care. I had a patient once who had an underwater head injury with loss of consciousness, but finished her swim meet before going to the ER. I'm just thankful she didn't drown or bleed into her brain during that second race.
  • Behavior change: If your child feels sick, acts too sleepy, or has a change in mental status/behavior after a day at the pool, take it seriously. The worst thing you can do with a child who may have inhaled water is put them to bed. They need immediate medical care.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting after a day of swimming can be due to waterborne infectious disease (poop in the pool water…), but can also be a sign of severe illness due to dry drowning.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent drowning is to teach kids how to swim. While children under age four may benefit from lessons to get acclimated to the water, parents should never count on swimming lessons to keep their toddler safe in the water.  

Dry Drowning Information Copyright to healthychildren.org

Video "What Does Drowning Look Like" copyright to Mario Vittone. Blog Link

Video "How To Prevent Drowning" copyright to Mario Vittone. (Video Link)

Water Safety Animations

Courtesy to and Copyright of Water Safety Animations Kids (http://www.kidsalive.com.au)

Drowning Prevention

There are many ways we can prevent drowning.

Supervision: Children are spontaneous, curious, so being around water always poses a risk. Supervision should be conducted by an adult who is not under the influence of substance, and who has the children in clear sight and within arm’s reach at all times in case of emergency. Flotation devices and pool toys should never be considered a replacement for supervision.

Fencing: Remember to ensure your pool fence is in good condition, well maintained, complies with safety regulations and completely surrounds the pool area. Objects which can be used to lean against or scale a fence must be kept clear of pool areas at all times. Regulations may be in place in your state or territory regarding pool fencing, but regardless it pays to ensure your fences are of high standard.

Gates: Gates to pool areas must be maintained and regularly checked to ensure they are kept shut and that latches are in good working order, not jammed or accessible by children. Self closing gates will reduce the risk of drowning in your pool area. It pays to check regularly regardless of your gate closing mechanisms, that pool gates and doors leading into water areas are kept locked and not left open at any time.

Installing barriers (e.g. covering wells, using doorway barriers and playpens, fencing swimming pools etc.) is crucial to controlling and limiting access to water hazards. It's not only swimming pools and large bodies of water that pose a risk of drowning. Dams, rivers, creeks, ponds, watering troughs and many other bodies of water pose an immediate risk of drowning and precautions should be taken to limit access to these areas; in particular to children.

Swimming: Giving children a chance to become familiar with water safety is extremely important. Teaching infants and children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. Effective swimming lessons not only teach people how to swim, but also to become familiar with lifesaving techniques and water safety practices for emergency situations. Being able to swim gives you a greater chance of survival in a water emergency situation and in addition can enhance health and well being and respect for water and it's potential dangers.

Resuscitation: Knowing how to resuscitate someone and provide basic first aid in an emergency situation can save a life. None of us are exempt from danger, accident or injury. By learning first aid, you increase your chances of assisting loved ones and those around you for any given situation.


(i) World Health Organisation (WHO, Fact Sheet #347)


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