Your backyard pool comes with a guarantee of endless summer fun for your family, but it also comes with a huge responsibility if you have little ones. Keeping your kids safe around your swimming pool is paramount, as we all know accidents and drownings can happen quickly.
A backyard barbeque with 50 guests, oodles of small children, live entertainment, and an unfenced swimming pool. This was the situation at a party in a San Francisco suburb. But the host had hired a lifeguard, so all is well, right? The lifeguard wandered away when the party moved to the dance floor and assured one mother that all the kids were out of the pool.
Having just read an article on drowning, the mother decided to check anyway. What she found was a two-year-old boy who was dipping his toes in the pool. The mother scooped him up and returned him to his parents. While everyone ended up well in this situation, it could have easily ended in disaster.
Drownings happen fast. Really fast. In a split second, you turn your back, and your worst nightmare can happen. We all know this, yet it’s still the number one cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4 and the second-leading cause of death in children 5 to 9 in the US. (If you’re wondering, it’s only second to motor vehicle collisions).
Over 700 children die each year, and over 6,000 receive non-fatal injuries from accidents in pools, oceans, lakes, bathtubs, rivers, and even water buckets. Over half of the drownings that occur are in backyard swimming pools.
If this sounds scary, it should. Pools are an easy way to keep your children busy and entertained for hours, but the water is merciless. An unfenced pool draws children in. It’s a temptation they can’t resist. Unfortunately, they are acutely unaware of the danger, so you, as the parent, must make it safe.
While stricter laws and public awareness are a good start, nothing takes the place of vigilant parents who wish to keep their children safe. You can enforce measures in your backyard pool and prevent your children from becoming another drowning statistic.
Pool Safety Tips and Drowning Prevention for Parents
As much as you don’t want to have a conversation with your kids about drowning, you have to. We talk about everything else with our kids, from safely crossing the street to stranger danger to which apps they’re allowed to use on your phone. The risk of drowning in the swimming pool is just one more item on the list to help them stay safe.
Most incidents of drowning happen when kids aren’t swimming. When they’re swimming, they’re usually well supervised. Toddlers can slip through unlocked back doors; older children will splash at the pool edge when parents aren’t aware or even fall in a while playing outdoors.
Ensure they know not to go near or in water without a grown-up the same way you don’t let them cross the street alone. It’s dangerous. This rule should be enforced the same as any other house safety rule.
1. Water Supervision
Have you ever heard that nobody’s watching when everybody’s watching? Even if there’s a group of adults present while a group of children is swimming, you need to designate the adult in charge of supervising the kids.
Rotate the designated water supervisor and take turns. This should be the case even at public pools or at the beach where there’s a lifeguard present. If you’re the designated supervisor, you shouldn’t be caught up in conversations with others, reading, or otherwise distracted.
Know what a child at risk of drowning looks like. Children often drown silently. They’re vertical in the water with their head tipped back.
Despite what Hollywood portrays, individuals about to drown don’t flail, splash, or call for help. Of course, it’s possible that you could intervene with a child who’s playing and not distressed, but it’s better than the alternative.
2. Put Your Phone Down
As much as we don’t want to admit it, parents do this all the time. We tell our kids to play in the pool, and the first thing we do is sit down and check our phones. In the time it takes you to post your selfie on Facebook, your child could have wandered in too deep and slipped under the water unnoticed.
Your phone is a distraction that prevents you from adequately supervising your kids. Put it away and pay attention. If you absolutely must respond to a message, make sure someone else has eyes on the kids while you do it.
3. Give Your Kids Swimming Lessons
Teaching your kids to swim certainly doesn’t “drown proof” them, but it does give them some skills to help themselves if they end up in a compromised situation. You can start your kids in swim lessons as infants, and even toddlers can learn to float. In addition, swimming lessons can teach your child lifesaving skills if they ever need them.
4. Keep Your Pool Maintained
When you start using your pool in the spring or summer, have it checked by a pool professional. Ensure the safety cover is operating correctly, that there are no issues with the electrical components, and that your pool fencing hasn’t become compromised over the winter.
Your fencing should have self-closing and self-latching gates to prevent your children from falling in accidentally. In addition, loose screws or rough edges should be repaired as they can snag hair or swimsuits under the water.
Drain covers are another critical piece to check. Displaced or missing drain covers can “suck” people down towards the drain. Likewise, exposed holes at the bottom of a pool are a big no-no.
5. Have an Emergency Plan
Know emergency first aid and CPR. If an accident happens, your ability to act quickly instead of waiting for emergency responders could mean the difference between life and death. You can post instructions on the inside of your pool gate in case you need a reminder.
Make sure your home address is clearly posted on the sign if anyone needs to call for help. If your child goes underwater for an extended period and doesn’t lose consciousness, you should still watch for signs of drowning.
If water gets inside the lungs, it is possible to drown “after the fact.” Look for signs of drowsiness, excessive coughing, rapid breathing rates, and go to the emergency department if you have concerns.
6. Think Outside the Swimming Pool
Most of us only think of the risk of large swimming pools. However, small kiddie pools post a drowning hazard, too. Even the tiniest wading pool can be dangerous under the right circumstances. In most cases, inflatable kiddie pools are even more dangerous. A small child can drown in as little as 2 inches of water.
The danger with inflatable pools comes with the fact that they’re left out in the open. Because they are temporary, they usually aren’t surrounded by fencing or covered up.
7. Don’t Rely on Pool Toys
Water wings, floaties, inner tubes, and pool noodles all float, so they should keep your child above water, right? Wrong. Floating pool toys flip over quickly and can actually trap people under the water. They also float away, so they’re not always in reach in an emergency. Life jackets are a much safer option if you want your child to be supported in the pool.
Keeping Your Backyard Pool Safe
Your backyard swimming pool should be surrounded by fencing on all four sides. Despite the safety risk, it’s not illegal to have a pool unfenced. California, which has some of the harshest pool safety laws in the US, only requires new pools to have two of seven recommended drowning prevention safety measures. Four-sided fencing isn’t one of the legally required safety measures.
Australia’s newest pool-safety regulations require all states to have four-sided, non-climbable fencing. In this country, pool drownings dropped by over half between 2011 and 2015 with the latest fencing rules. So, in short, even if it’s not the law, you should invest in four-sided fencing for your pool.
The gate leading to your pool area should be self-latching and self-closing and should open outwards. Any latches should be higher than your child can reach, and there should be less than four inches between the gate bottom and the ground.
Build Protection in Layers
If the inside of your playroom looks like a tornado just blew through, it’s no big deal. Your pool area, however, should be compulsively clean. Clean water is not just important for hygienic reasons; clear water allows you to see what’s happening below the surface.
In addition, removing pool toys from the pool when your kids are done reduces the temptation for your kids to jump in. It’s also a good idea to keep a lifesaving ring and a reaching pole inside your pool area for emergencies.
There are options for pool alarms and automatic pool covers that can help you keep your pool safe. Pool alarms set off a buzzing noise every time the gate is open, so you are aware of the activity.
Keep Your Pool Covered
Rigid safety covers are available and should be used anytime your pool isn’t in use. For above-ground pools, take the ladder away when no one is swimming. Ensure your cover is correctly fitted over the entire surface of your pool to avoid someone falling between gaps and becoming trapped.
Keep Pool Chemicals Safely Stored
The number one danger for backyard swimming pools is drowning, but we often don’t think about how dangerous our pool chemicals are. Not only are they lethally toxic if consumed, but they can also cause skin burns and rashes. Always store your pool chemicals out of reach of children and in locked storage areas.
Entrapment From Drains
Few parents realize that pool and spa drains can suck people down and cause them to become trapped underwater. Regarding public swimming pools, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act that took effect in December 2008 has resulted in zero drain-entrapment incidents since.
The federal law mandates anti-entrapment drain covers in all public swimming pools. But the law doesn’t apply to private backyard pools. It’s easy to make sure your pool has anti-entrapment fittings on all suction drains. Your local pool service representative can help you find the right ones for your pool.
There should be at least two drains in your pool for each pump. If one drain becomes blocked, the other becomes a powerful suction device. Having a double drain per pump reduces the amount of suction. Hot tubs and spas usually have vacuum-release safety systems that release all suction from the drain if it becomes blocked.
Loose ties on swimsuits and long hair are the most common culprits for getting caught in pool drains. If your child has long hair, tie it back during swimming and avoid swimsuits with loose strings or dangly fringe.
With some secure pool fencing and safety measures, you can make sure that your children are safe around your backyard pool.
Always be vigilant in supervising young children in the water. Pool accidents are preventable. Taking the proper safety precautions can help you enjoy your pool with your family for many years to come!