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Drowning prevention tips

Updated May 28, 2015

As a parent and former lifeguard, I find drowning incidents such as the near drowning of a child saved by an off-duty EMT or the mistaking of a body on the bottom of the pool for a manikin to be particularly heartbreaking. In almost all cases, drowning is preventable and most times occurs in pools or swimming areas where adults and/or lifeguards are present.

In the waning days of summer, remember these important tips to prevent a drowning while you are at the pool or beach:

1. Only swim in designated swimming areas.

2. Children and adults should never swim alone or without a lifeguard/observer, regardless of their swimming ability.

3. Swim with and near a buddy of equal swimming ability.

4. Don’t swim in currents, waves, or water temperatures beyond your swimming abilities.

5. Restrict children’s access to swimming pools with fences, gates, and doors. It is especially important to lock sliding glass doors from the house that lead to the swimming pool.

6. Never swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Intoxication is often a contributing cause to drowning.1

7. Do not play breath-holding games for fun or to build lung capacity. They are dangerous and ineffective.

Parents, don’t abdicate your child’s safety to a lifeguard. If you are not in the water swimming with your child, continuously visually monitor your child. Even experienced child swimmers drown. Eliminate or minimize distractions while you watch your child.

Recognize a swimmer in trouble

Finally, recognize a swimmer in trouble. A swimmer with his head above the water, calling for help, and vigorously moving his arms and legs has enough oxygen to participate in his own rescue. Use coaching, ring buoy, pole, or a rescue tube to assist the swimmer to safety.

A swimmer who is barely able to keep his head out of the water is lethargic; if he is not calling out for help, he is in immediate danger. He likely doesn’t have the awareness or strength to reach out to a rescue tube or assist in his own rescue. A properly trained lifeguard or rescue swimmer needs to go to that swimmer in danger to make the rescue.

1. Shepherd SM, Shoff WH. Drowning. June 9, 2009. Accessed August 4, 2009.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.