safety tips

Swimming Safety Tips: Guidelines for Pools, Oceans and COVID-19

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years old and the second leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 5 to 9, according to the CDC

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As temperatures begin to climb each summer, so do the number of drowning deaths.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years old and the second leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 5 to 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reported that more than 60% of fatal drownings of children under the age of 4 occur in swimming pools.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Red Cross suggest home owners follow these safety tips to help prevent a tragedy and keep a well maintained backyard pool:

POOL SAFETY TIPS

  1. Install Proper Barriers, Covers and Alarms: Secure your pool with appropriate barriers. Completely surround your pool with a 4-feet high fence or barrier with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Place a safety cover on the pool or hot tub when not in use and remove any ladders or steps used for access. Consider installing a pool alarm that goes off if anyone enters the pool.
  2. Never Leave a Child Unattended in or Near Water: Always watch children when they’re in or near water, and never leave them unattended. Designate an official Water Watcher, an adult tasked with supervising children in the water. That should be their only task – they shouldn’t be reading, texting or playing games on their phone. Have a phone close by at all times in case you need to call for help, and if a child is missing, check the pool first. 
  3. Teach Children How to Swim: Swimming is not only fun, it’s a lifesaving skill. Enroll children in swimming lessons; there are many free or reduced-cost options available from your local YMCA, USA Swimming chapter or Parks and Recreation Department. Have young or inexperienced swimmers wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  4. Teach Children to Stay Away From Drains: Do not play or swim near drains or suction outlets, especially in spas and shallow pools, and never enter a pool or spa that has a loose, broken or missing drain cover. Children’s hair, limbs, jewelry or bathing suits can get stuck in a drain or suction opening. When using a spa, be sure to locate the emergency vacuum shutoff before getting in the water.
  5. Keep Your Pool Water Clean and Clear: Maintain proper chemical levels, circulation and filtration. Regularly test and adjust the chemical levels to minimize the risk of earaches, rashes or more serious diseases.
  6. Have an Emergency Response Plan: Ensure everyone in the home knows how to respond to aquatic emergencies by having appropriate safety equipment and taking water safety, first aid and CPR courses. Often, bystanders are the first to aid a drowning victim, so learning CPR can help save a life. And once you’re CPR certified, make sure to keep your certification current. CPR classes are available through many hospitals, community centers, or by contacting the American Red Cross at at 1-800-RED-CROSS or support@redcrosstraining.org.

With many public pools preparing to open this summer after the pandemic forced lockdowns last year, parents are wondering whether it is safe to head back into the water during COVID.

The CDC says there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. That’s because disinfectants used to clean water – including chlorine and bromine – should kill the virus that causes COVID-19.

But before you grab your suit and do a cannonball, remember a virus-free pool doesn’t mean a risk-free swim season. You could still catch COVID-19 from touching a contaminated surface or from close contact with a person who is virus-positive. The CDC offers these COVID-19 safety tips:

COVID SAFETY TIPS FOR POOLS, HOT TUBS AND WATER PLAYGROUNDS

  1. Quarantine: Stay home if you are infected or might be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
  2. Social Distance: Stay at least 6 feet apart (in and out of the water) from people you don't live with when visiting public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds, as well as natural bodies of water—like beaches and lakes—to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  3. Mask Up: Wear cloth masks when not in the water. The CDC warns against wearing masks in the water as it can be difficult to breathe through a cloth mask when it is wet. Plus, wet cloth masks don’t slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 as well as dry cloth masks do.
  4. Guideline Compliance: Check the pool website or call the pool management to learn whether it is complying with CDC guidance for aquatic venues, which "is meant to supplement" the guidance of your local government. If your local regulations for pools are less stringent than CDC guidance, you could follow CDC-recommended practices as well to further reduce your risk.


Swimming in open water, such as ponds, lakes, oceans and rivers, poses different risks for children. According to the CDC, children 5 years old and older are more likely to drown in open water, with the risk of drowning increasing with age. 

The average 10-year-old, for example, is three times more likely to drown in open water than in a pool. According to the Red Cross, more than 100 people die annually due to rip currents on U.S. beaches.

Experts warn that more children drown in open bodies of water — lakes, ponds and rivers — than in swimming pools.

PONDS, LAKES, RIVERS AND OCEANS: OPEN WATER SAFETY

  1. Hidden Hazards: Teach children that swimming in an open water is different from swimming in a pool. Know the hidden hazards of open water such as limited visibility, sudden drop-off, currents, undertow and changing weather.
  2. Designated Swimming Areas: Look for posted signs about open water hazards. Swim with a buddy in a designated area that is supervised by lifeguards. Heed the warnings and special instructions of lifeguards or other authorities as well as flags or signs.
  3. Wear a Life Jacket: Weak swimmers and children who cannot swim should wear a life jacket at all times when boating or participating in other water activities. Choose a U.S. Coast Guard-approved jacket that is right for your child's weight and water activity. 
  4. Know How to Respond to an Aquatic Emergency: It is important to know how to respond in an emergency without putting yourself at risk of drowning. Enroll in Red Cross water safety, first aid and CPR courses to learn what to do. Know where the lifeguards are and how to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
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