Emergency Care For You

Safe Swimming

Drowning occurs most often among small children and people who can't swim, but even experienced swimmers may be susceptible, depending on weather conditions, water currents, their health and other circumstances.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children ages one to four years of age. It only takes a few seconds for a child to drown, and small children can drown in just a few inches of water - in a bathtub, a toilet or a bucket.

Parents need to keep a close eye on their children when they are near any water sources, especially pools or at the beach or a lake. In addition, parents need to know the limits of their child's ability to swim and to set firm ground rules for play around the water, and to never leave kids unsupervised. For every child who drowns, more than 10 children are treated in emergency departments for near drowning. Keep in mind the following safety precautions:

  • Teach your children to swim.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Only swim in places that are supervised. Never allow children to swim without adult supervision.
  • Install safety fences with child-proof latches around swimming pools.
  • Never dive into unfamiliar water.

If you're at the beach:

  • Always swim near a lifeguard tower and never swim alone.
  • Wear sunscreen, with at least a level 15 sun protection factor, to protect against burns.
  • Check with lifeguards about surf and beach conditions before going in the water. Obey warning signs in dangerous areas.
  • Don't overestimate your swimming ability. Never depend on flotation devices for your safety.
  • Never drink alcohol and swim.
  • Always swim or surf in designated areas.
  • Avoid cliff edges, stay behind fences and obey warning signs.
  • Never run and dive in the water. Even if you have previously checked current conditions, those conditions can change rapidly.

In addition, boating accidents can also result in drowning. While life jacket use has increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of people who died in boating accidents were not wearing any kind of flotation device. Just because you know how to swim doesn't mean you should go boating without a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket is important for anyone who goes out on water.

  • Always wear your life jacket and carry first aid equipment in the boat.
  • Tell someone when you're going, who is with you and how long you'll be away.
  • When changing seats, stay low and near the center line of a small boat.
  • On sailboats, keep alert to wind and sail activity and stay low to avoid getting hit by the sail "boom."
  • Monitor the weather carefully for signs of a storm.
  • Take a marine radio with you to call for assistance in case there are any problems. (Cell phones frequently do not work off-shore.)
  • Never drink alcoholic beverages on a boat. Being "tipsy" can result in falling overboard. Your ability to swim safely or call for help is greatly reduced by alcohol use.

If a person appears to be drowning (e.g., is flailing in the water, yelling for help, coughing or going under, or appears to be unconscious or floating in the water), check the area, alert a lifeguard if one is nearby, then call 911 or your local emergency number. In addition:

  • Do not attempt to rescue a drowning person while in the water yourself unless you are trained to do so and have lifesaving equipment. People who are drowning may panic and pull you underwater with them; dangerous circumstances - such as strong currents or rip tides - may also endanger you.
  • If possible, reach out with or throw an object that floats to the person from a secure out-of-water position, such as a boat, a swimming pool ladder or a dock.
  • For a person pulled from the water, tilt the head back, lift the chin and check for breathing and other signs of life. Expel fluid or other objects from the mouth.
    • If the person is not breathing, give two slow rescue breaths. If rescue breaths go in, give CPR. If rescue breaths do not go in, reposition the airway and reattempt.
    • If the person is still not breathing after rescue breaths are administered, see Unconscious Choking.