Checklist: Keeping Your Pool Safe for All Swimmers
Remember that children must be given undivided attention at or near the swimming pool.
By Emma Pignato
Parents and caregivers should ensure that a home swimming pool has an effective swim safety plan and extra layers of protection. Most drownings seen at Cook Children’s happen in a swimming pool during the least expected moments. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause for kids 1 to 14 in Texas.
Commonly, during unplanned swim time, children sneak off unnoticed, curious and looking for adventure, and that’s when drowning most often occurs. It’s vital never to lose sight of your child when you are in or around a swimming pool.
Drownings are preventable - more often than not, parents do not hear their children drowning; this is why children must be given undivided attention at or near the swimming pool.
Don’t be the person to think, “It won’t happen to me.” Drowning can happen to anybody in a split second, not just neglectful parents not watching or paying enough attention to their children, and not just children who can’t swim.
A parent’s water safety job is not over when their child learns to swim. Even experienced swimmers are susceptible to drowning and should still be watched, or wear a life vest at all times.
When choosing a life vest for your child, always check the label. If it does not read “US Coast Guard Approved” or “USCG Approved”, do not use it - assume it is not safe and untrustworthy. As your child grows, the lifejacket needs to meet their new weight. Get a new lifejacket if there are rips and tears or fraying of the straps.
Sharon Evans, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children's, shared tips and insight on safety at the pool.
What are some tips you have for parents this summer while they’re at their home pools?
The biggest thing is keeping your eyes or hands on your kids at all times. The large majority of our drownings we see at Cook Children’s are in backyard pools. It’s not always the homeowner's child - a lot of times they’ve gone to somebody else’s house for a barbecue or party.
When you have a pool party for example, the more people you have at a pool, the higher the risk a child will drown because everyone assumes someone else is watching the kids. Wear a Water Watcher tag for 15 minutes, while you wear it, you cannot eat, drink or talk to anyone else- you’re strictly just watching the kids in the pool. Then, pass the tag onto someone else.
What are common incidents seen at Cook Children’s?
We see similar stories every time: The child will be in the pool, swimming with a life vest on, and then they get out of the pool to go to the bathroom or get something to eat and the parents will take the life vest off and somehow they get back into the pool. Drownings are always silent, not like in the movies where we see the kid thrashing and screaming. We’ve had parents sitting on the edge of the pool on their phones, unaware that their kid is drowning because it is so silent.
Are life vests the safest option for children?
Anything that is Coast Guard approved is safe. We see a lot of parents using puddle jumpers and those are safe too, as long as they are Coast Guard approved and are not inflatable. Blow- up floaties or anything that’s inflatable can deflate at any moment.
Does drowning prevention differ from age to age?
Generally, drowning prevention is the same for all ages. We’ve had older adolescents/early teenagers go to the pool and they get tired and are unable to swim. You should always be watching, even if they’re a great swimmer, that doesn’t mean you can take your eyes off them.
Pool Safety Checklist:
Choose a Water Watcher
- A child must have constant supervision while near or in a swimming pool. Decide on a designated Water Watcher and make sure they have no distractions.
- If more than one adult is present, switch water watching jobs every 10 minutes.
- Put your phone or other possible distractions away.
Install fences around home pools
- Proper fencing around pools could prevent 50% to 90% of childhood drowning incidents.
- Four-sided isolation fencing should be around your home pool.
- Fences around pools should be at least 4 feet tall.
- Self-latching/self-latching gates that only open outwards.
- Gates with childproof locks should remain locked at all times if the pool is unattended.
Be aware of pool drains
- Teach your children to stay away from pool drains or any equipment with strong suction that hair or clothing can get caught in.
- Make sure any swimming pool your child is at has compliant, working drain covers.
Use pool/door/child alarm
- An alarm can give you crucial seconds that could save a child's life.
Empty inflatable or portable pool immediately after use
- Even shallow pools are a drowning risk.
- Store them upside down so they cannot collect water.
Know what to do in an emergency
- Take family CPR lessons.
- The adult should call 911 immediately and then begin CPR while EMS is on the way.
- Schedule water safety and swim lessons.
For more information and resources, go to LifeguardyourChild.org.
Lifeguard Your Child began in 2016 and continues its regional collaboration, led by Cook Children’s, to prevent drownings in North Texas. The campaign aligns consistent messages and educational goals across our region. Together with community partners across 11 counties, we work year-round to provide education, Water Watcher tags, swim lessons, life jackets and other prevention tools to families.
The Lifeguard Your Child campaign is spread through the Safe Kids North Texas Coalition, which is based in Fort Worth and led by Cook Children’s.
The campaign’s strategies include Cook Children’s Loaner Life Jacket Stations at many lake entry points across the region. Families can go to the stations to find U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in a variety of sizes with easy tips for a proper fit.
Safety tips for home swimming pools:
- Assign a water watcher, aka an adult who will commit to 100% supervision of children in and around water.
- Restrict access by installing door locks high out of children’s reach. Door and window alarms can signal if someone leaves the house.
- Install four-sided fencing around pools with a self-latching gate that only opens out. The fence should be at least 4 feet (preferably 5 feet) high.
- Remove all toys and floats from the pool area so children are not tempted to get close to the water.
- For above-ground pools, make sure the ladder is removed and not accessible when it’s not swimming time.
- Consider a pool surface alarm to alert if anyone/anything falls into the water.
Safety tips for the bathtub:
- An adult must stay at the side of the tub in reach of the child.
- Pay attention. This is not the time for multitasking.
- Ignore distractions like the doorbell or phone calls.
- Drain the tub after each use.