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Child Safety: Preventing Drowning


An infant or young child can drown in as little as 2.5 cm (1 in.) of water or other liquid.

The following recommendations can help you protect your child from drowning hazards.

  • Don't leave babies and young children alone in the bathtub or a swimming or wading pool.

    A baby who slips or rolls and lands face down may not be able to turn over. You can use bathing seats or flotation devices. But be aware that they don't protect against drowning. They aren't a substitute for your attention.

  • Don't leave babies and young children alone around filled buckets, such as 5-gallon buckets used for cleaning.

    Empty your buckets after each use, and keep them out of children's reach. Buckets have tall, straight sides that make it very hard for infants and young children to escape if they fall in.

  • Leave toilet lids down.

    Keep young children out of the bathroom without your direct supervision. Make sure that your toddler knows that the toilet isn't a toy. Toilets are drowning hazards, especially for children younger than 3. An older baby or young child can fall headfirst into the water and not be able to climb back out. Think about placing a latch on the bathroom door, out of reach of young children.

  • Empty all liquid containers right away after use.

    Keep all empty containers out of reach of young children and babies. Don't leave empty containers in the yard or around the house. They can accumulate water and become a drowning hazard.

  • Empty coolers right away after use, and keep lids closed.

    Store them out of children's reach.

  • Watch children closely outdoors, especially where wells, open postholes, and irrigation canals or drainage ditches are nearby.

    Fill holes and install fences or other barriers to protect your child. Make sure that pools are fenced off and have covers that lock. Don't let a child out of your sight while you are doing yard work or other outdoor activities.

  • Never let your child swim in any fast-moving water, irrigation canals, or drainage ditches.

Teaching swimming safety

Children need to learn to swim. You can help prevent drowning incidents by teaching your children basic safety rules and swimming skills.

The following are suggestions to help you prepare your child for water-related activities.

  • Learn to swim if you don't already know how.

    Also, learn swimming survival and rescue techniques.

  • If you enroll your child in swim lessons, remember that swim lessons may not prevent drowning.

    Swim lessons may give you and your child a false sense of security and make you both less cautious around water. Be sure that your child swims only when a watchful adult is present.

  • Teach your children water-safety rules ahead of time.

    Make sure they know these key swimming rules:

    • Always swim with a buddy.
    • Read and follow all the rules for a swimming area.
    • Don't dive into unknown bodies of water. Jump feet first.
    • Don't push or jump on others while in the water.
    • Be prepared for an emergency. Instruct children on getting help from an adult or calling 9-1-1.
  • Don't let your child use inflatable swimming aids (such as "water wings") without constant supervision.

    These aids can deflate, or a child can slip out of them. Also, children can learn habits using these devices that can put them at risk for drowning. For example, a child who often uses water wings may learn to jump into a pool on impulse. They may jump in while not wearing the devices, before having a chance to think about it.

  • Assign an adult "water watcher" to pay constant attention to children.

    The water watcher's only job is to watch children in or near water. If you're the water watcher, put down your cell phone and avoid other activities. Trade off with another sober adult for breaks.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine