15 Simple Ways to Prevent Pool-Related Accidents and Drownings
Does anyone have an extra lifeguard whistle?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10 people die from unintentionally drowning every day in the United States. Of those 10, about two are children under the age of 14 years old. For every child that becomes a victim of drowning, about five other children are rushed to the emergency room for non-fatal submersion injuries.
In other words, there are way too many lives being lost due to pool-related accidents, which is why keeping these preventative measures in mind is super important to make the most out of your pool time. Even if you think you already know how to avoid pool-related accidents, a refresher never hurts—especially considering accidents are, well, accidental and unplanned. In order to lessen the likelihood of that happening, we consulted experts for some guidelines you should follow for safer swimming.
1 Ditch the flip-flops and sandals
A visit to the pool without your favorite pair of summer soles might sound crazy, but the reality is that most flip-flops and sandals are actually really unsafe in wet environments, which is why opting for water shoes with grips on the bottom is a safer alternative, says Brittany Ferri, OTR/L, CPRP, founder of Simplicity of Health, LLC. Going barefoot is even safer than wearing slip-prone footwear, according to Giuseppe Aragona, MD, a family medicine doctor and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor.
2 Abide by the buddy system (yes, adults too)
Our kindergarten teachers were on to something when they forced us to use the buddy system— the same technique should always apply while swimming. While swimmers of all ages should abide by this rule, children are at an even greater risk of pool-related accidents. “Children can drown in as little as two inches of water,” says Jenny McCuiston, Olympic swimming trialist and founder of Goldfish Swim School. “So if water is around, make sure someone else is, too.”
3 Find a home for your pool toys when they’re not being used
No one likes to think about cleaning while you’re relaxing poolside, but leaving pool toys out can be a real hazard, says Ferri. By having a set place to store all of your pool noodles and other water accessories, you might feel less inclined to toss those toys where someone can trip over them. Leaving the toys in the water isn’t any safer, though. In fact, that might serve as an open invitation for kids to try to reach in and grab them. “Having a designated toy bucket or basket outside of the pool (in-ground, popup, kiddie pool, etc.) prevents slipping and falling into the body of water,” McCuiston says.
4 Discourage diving unless experienced and/or under supervision
Even if the pool seems like it’s deep enough to dive into, you’re still running a risk for injury each time, Ferri says, which is why avoiding diving altogether is your safest bet. However, if swimmers still want to dive, the American Red Cross says they should never do so from a running start. Swimmers should also always dive straight ahead (as opposed to off to the side) and the water should be a minimum of nine feet deep.
5 Use a pool cover when you’re not swimming
According to Ferri, by using a pool cover, you’re keeping out all of the debris and potential outside hazards that could fall into the pool when you’re not using it. Whether that means keeping out unwelcome bugs or sharp sticks that scratch against your skin, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by keeping the cover on. If you’re visiting a public pool, here are some public pool safety tips to follow.
6 Implement a one-toy-at-a-time rule
Depending upon the size of the pool toy, there could be some leeway to this—but one toy at a time is a good rule of thumb. “Don't keep the pool chock full of large toys, floats, etc., since this can be overwhelming and make it difficult to come up for air when [swimmers] break through the surface,” Ferri says. This doesn’t just apply to kids, either. Large pool toys can act as barriers to coming up for air for swimmers of all ages.
7 Don’t drink and swim
This might seem obvious, but drinking alcohol and swimming is a recipe for disaster. According to a study published by BMJ, 10 to 30 percent of all drowning deaths can be attributed to alcohol consumption. The chance of drowning drastically increases based on the swimmer’s blood-alcohol level. Needless to say, be responsible—don’t drink and swim.
8 Designate a water guardian
Maybe it’s your friend who doesn’t feel like swimming or your aunt who prefers the sun to the water, but someone has to be the designated water guardian. This is especially true at pool parties, where it might be easy to overlook someone struggling in the water amongst a crowd of people. Water guardian requirements: “No chatting, no checking your phone, no distractions,” McCuiston says. Plus, they definitely need to know how to swim so they can jump in if there’s an emergency. McCuiston suggests switching off with another water guardian in 30-minute intervals to make sure they’re always alert and attentive.
9 Test out the water before jumping in
Dipping your toes in the water and making sure the temperature is comfortable for swimming is more important than you think. If the water is too cold, you can shock your body, which means a few things can happen: you can elevate your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and slow down your muscle movements. Consequently, all of this can result in difficulty swimming, says McCuiston.
10 Standing water is a big no-go
Whether it’s an ice bucket that’s melted, a solo sandcastle bucket filled with water, or a kiddie pool that isn’t being used, toss the water out ASAP. Standing water can be a major slipping (and tripping) hazard if it’s knocked over, especially when it’s next to a swimming pool, says McCuiston.
11 Invest in a four-sided fence
The money you spend now on a four-sided pool fence will pay off in the long term, especially if little ones (or even pets) are ever wandering around the yard. “Four-sided fences with safety latches are the best way to prevent accidental falls into water,” McCuiston suggests. “You might also consider installing door and pool alarms to prevent kids from slipping outside unnoticed.”
12 Always keep a shepherd’s crook and a life preserver nearby
Just like how most people keep a fire extinguisher handy in case of an emergency, the same applies to pool safety. Troy Lindbeck, VP of marketing at Pinch A Penny Pool Patio Spa, suggests always keeping a shepherd’s crook, like those that lifeguards use, and a hard, foam life preserver on deck at all times. Hopefully, you won’t ever need to throw in that life preserver.
13 Use floating markers and other depth markings to clearly show where the water begins to deepen and how far down it goes
If you’re swimming and spending time with friends, you might not be aware of yourself inching toward the deep end of the pool if there aren’t any obvious markers telling you so. While this might not be as much of a problem for people who know how to swim, this could be very dangerous for someone who doesn’t know how and finds themselves in deeper water than they thought, says Lindbeck.
14 Keep pool chemicals locked away and far from the water
Properly storing your pool chemicals is serious business. Accidents happen, which is why it’s super important to prevent this one from ever occurring by making sure the chemicals aren’t anywhere in the open where someone can accidentally knock them over or get them wet. According to Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, pool chemicals may become a hazard when they get damp or wet with a small quantity of water, or when they are improperly mixed with each other, other chemicals, or reactive materials.
15 Make sure all power lines and wires are at least 25 feet away from the pool to avoid Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)
Similar to how pool chemicals should be kept far, far away from the water, all power lines and wires should definitely be nowhere near the water. According to Brianne Deerwester, communications coordinator for the Electrical Safety Foundation International, “ESD occurs when faulty wiring sends electric current into water, which passes through the body and causes paralysis, ultimately resulting in drowning. ESD severely injures and kills people every year.” Deerwester suggests installing GFCIs, which prevent electrocution within 20 feet of the water’s edge.