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How to Prevent Your Child From Drowning

Drowning is one of the most preventable hazards which can be avoided with the active supervision of children by adults and taking the precaution of installing simple barriers. It is also, sadly, one of the quickest and most silent causes of irreversible injuries and death.  If a child is ever momentarily missing, look in the pool or other water locations first. It can take less than a few minutes for death or irreversible brain damage to occur. Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death among children aged one to fourteen years old.

Tragically, incidents of child drowning have been reported frequently in GCC over the last couple of years. A two-year-old child drowned in a family pool in Abu Dhabi in July 2019, and earlier in June Emirati twin boys aged two years and five months drowned in a neighbours’ swimming pool in Ras Al Khaimah. In late December 2018 a three-year-old boy drowned in a hotel villa pool, it was reported by the Khaleej Times.


Statistics from the World Health Organization’s report suggest that globally two to three million children aged from birth to fourteen years have survived a drowning incident in one year. At least 5% of child drowning survivors admitted to hospital have serious neurological damage. Access to swimming pools in GCC is a leading risk factor in child drowning accidents.


Water Safety – The Basics


Supervision is the first essential rule - Kids must be supervised whenever they are around water. This applies to water in the bathtub, paddling pool, ornamental pond, hot tub, spa, swimming pool, lake, river or ocean. Young children can drown in a very small amount of water (less than 6cm) which means you must be vigilant around sinks, buckets, toilet bowls, inflatable pools or standing water around your home. Even children who can swim unaided must be supervised around water, as a slip or fall could make them lose consciousness and possibly fall into water and drown.

It is important to note that supervision around water requires that a responsible adult is watching the children constantly; it is not enough for an adult to be nearby or listening out - drowning is often quick and silent – don’t get distracted.

Young kids and weak swimmers should have an adult swimmer within arm's reach to provide "touch supervision."


Swimming Pool Safety


A backyard pool can be super-healthy and beneficial for kids, and with appropriate precautions taken, it should not be a danger. Swimming is fun, it is great exercise and can set the scene for excellent quality family time as well as playtime with friends. However, having a pool is also a huge responsibility and if you own one, it is your responsibility to safeguard it.

First and fore-most there is no substitute for vigilant adult supervision. In this age of distraction, it is important to be fully attentive and to follow a few basic rules:

  • Never answer your door or phone whilst supervising young children in or near water.
  • Never leave children even for a few seconds to attend to any other matter.
  • Never take your focus off watching children by using devices such as your cell phone or tablet – remember drowning is often silent and can happen in seconds – just listening out is not enough.


But there are additional steps you can and should take —


  • Fence the pool completely. Experts recommend a fence of at least four feet tall, with slats close enough together that small children can't squeeze between them. Make sure there are no horizontal slats or handholds or footholds that small children may use to climb over the fence.
  • Secure the gate to the pool with a lock. The best gates are self-closing and self-latching. Position the latches well out of reach of children. Install an audible gate alarm that will alert you inside the house if the gate is opened.
  • Secure all doors and windows in your home leading to the pool, so kids cannot gain access from a door or window within the house.
  • Get an in-the-water pool alarm. This is designed to alert you if anyone jumps or falls into the pool
  • Always have an adult nearby when using a swimming pool. This is a rule to be followed by adults also; even strong swimmers can need help unexpectedly. Children copy what they see adults do so it is vital to set the example yourself. Show younger children how to conduct themselves near water and insist that everyone follow the rules.
  • No running near water. It is easy to slip or trip near a pool resulting in potential injury to yourself or someone else as well. Teach your children that this applies to anywhere near water but particularly near a swimming pool and surrounding area.
  • Put toys away. Teach children to put toys away and not leave anything around the edge of the pool which could cause a trip or a fall.
  • Learn basic first aid
  • Keep emergency numbers close by


Open Water Safety


Swimming in open water (the ocean, a lake, river or pond) has different challenges to swimming in a pool. Even older children who are good swimmers need to take extra care. Older children must be taught the specific dangers of swimming or playing near rivers, lakes, ponds or the ocean.


Water Parks


  • Water parks can be a lot of fun for kids, but safety rules apply there too. 
  • Make sure you choose a park that has an excellent safety record and that the park uses qualified lifeguards.
  • Read all posted signs before letting your child on any rides. Make sure you know any restrictions; many have age, height, weight, or health requirements.
  • Know which rides are appropriate for your child's age and development. You know your child better than anyone – if you think a ride may be beyond their capability physically or emotionally do not let them use that ride.
  • Water depth and strength can vary among rides and features. Wave pools can quickly go from calm to rough, putting even good swimmers in over their head.
  • Teach your kids to follow all rules and directions, such as walking instead of running and always going down the water slide in the right position — feet-first and face-up. If they use a swimming pool at home they should be used to rules and know how to follow them – good safety habits start at home.
  • An approved life jacket is a sensible precaution.


Learning to swim


Swimming lessons are an important part of water safety. Kids can start taking them as young as their first birthday, and water familiarisation earlier than that.  Younger kids often begin with water survival skills training (like learning how to roll onto their back and float). Along with swimming lessons, this training may help reduce the risk of drowning in kids aged one to four years. It is, however, not considered sufficient in itself for drowning prevention.


What does not work


Much controversy surrounds the issue of teaching children under the age of 5 to swim as a drowning prevention strategy. Whilst it is clear that learning to swim is an important skill, whether it is protective against drowning requires further rigorous evaluation. Other interventions such as restricting access to unsafe areas must also be used in conjunction with adult supervision and vigilance. Solar pool covers and baby bath seats are not suitable for drowning prevention.