The month of May is traditionally celebrated much like a holiday across America as the beginning of the summer season. But instead of tree-trimming and sharing large meals around the dining table while winter chill keep families indoors, May is a month celebrated outside in the fresh air. Many children begin summer break, families take their first dip in the backyard swimming pool, and vacations long and short revolve around water.

Unfortunately the month of May has historically signaled the beginning of a season of drowning tragedies across the United States. Whether it’s the backyard or community pool, a local lake, mountain river, beach, or activity on the ocean, the danger of drowning is present whenever families spend time beside the water.

The National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) is proud to support May as “National Drowning Prevention Month,” in a collaborative effort across the country, with other organizations involved in water safety, drowning prevention, aquatic safety, and recreational activities. The main goal of the “National Drowning Prevention Month” campaign is to promote water safety, a central focus of the NDPA’s mission as an organization. NDPA recognizes and celebrates the vital role that swimming and aquatic-related activities play in the physical and mental health, as well as quality of life, of Americans.


  • Drowning is the second-leading cause of death to children ages 1-4 in the United States.
  • Drowning is the number one cause of death to children ages 1-4 in most southern states.
  • In many cases, drowning is a silent event, without splashing or a call for help.
  • In most areas of the country, the majority of child drownings occur in backyard pools & spas.
  • Drowning is a complex public health issue, requiring a multifaceted approach using multiple prevention strategies.
  • Scientific research, engineering advancements, legislation, community outreach, and education are all necessary strategies, on the national level, to prevent drownings.



Multiple strategies are needed to prevent drownings. Using “layers of protection” is the best way to enjoy the water safety. Each layer is used to compliment the others, so that no single strategy or approach is used.

  • ALWAYS know where children are. Never leave a child unattended in or near water in a pool, tub, lake, river, canal or ocean, even when lifeguards are present.
  • ALWAYS be aware of potential dangers in all environments, such as when away from home. Never leave your child in an environment with unprotected water hazards.
  • Instruct babysitters and caregivers about potential pool hazards and emphasize the need for constant supervision of children and barriers.
  • If a child is missing, always check the pool or spa first.
  • Whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be within an arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”
  • In addition to parental supervision, designate a “Water Watcher” to maintain constant watch over children in or near the water. The “Water Watcher” should not talk on the phone, read, cook, clean, or engage in any other distracting activity. After fifteen minutes, a new “Water Watcher” should be designated so that supervision stays fresh. Ensure that the “Water Watcher” is a sober adult who knows CPR and has basic swimming skills.
  • Do not use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision. “Water wings” or “floaties,” inflatable water rings, and other pool toys are NOT safety devices. Only US Coast Guard approved life jackets are designed and tested for safety.

Barriers for swimming pools – fencing:

  • Install “isolation fencing” which completely separates the pool or spa area from the house or other structures. An isolation fence restricts unauthorized access from neighbors’ yards, other nearby buildings, and from inside the house. Isolation fencing is the preferred configuration for pool and spa protection.
  • Choose fencing materials that are appropriate for your environment. (Click here for CPSC Guidelines)
  • If you have a removable mesh fence, ensure that it is designed properly, installed correctly, and maintained according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Keep the fence in place, especially during parties and other gatherings. Gates on removable mesh fencing should still be self-closing and self-latching.
  • All fences must be non-climbable, meet all applicable local safety codes, and should be at least 60” tall, with vertical bars set close to one another so that a small child can not squeeze through (no more than 4 inches of space) and horizontal bars far enough apart that they can not act as a “ladder” to climb over. The horizontal bar closest to the ground should also not allow enough room for a child to crawl under the fence.
  • Gates should be self-closing and self-latching and accommodate a locking device. Gates should open away from the pool and should never be propped open. Check your gate regularly to make sure it operates correctly.
  • The gate latch should be out of the reach of children, at least 54” from the ground. Use a locking latch, and keep it locked when pool is not in use. Store the key out of children’s reach and make sure all adults know where the key is kept.
  • Keep anything that can be climbed, such as chairs, tables, storage bins, playground equipment, ice chests, etc. inside the fence area.
  • Make sure that children and animals are not able to dig soil loose from under the pool fence.
  • Keep trees trimmed so that children cannot use them to climb over a pool fence. Do not plant trees close to the pool fence area.
  • All doors providing direct access from the home to the swimming pool should be equipped with a self-closing, self latching device with a release mechanism placed no lower than 54 inches above the floor.

Barriers for swimming pools – in addition to fencing:

  • Any type of “pool cover,” including mechanical covers and nets, requires diligent commitment by pool owners. Replace the cover when the pool is not in use, and check frequently to make sure the cover is in good condition and operates correctly.
  • Choose pool and spa safety covers that meet the ASTM International voluntary standard F1346-9. Covers should be properly used and maintained. Rain water that collects on top of the cover should be promptly removed. Keep children and pets off of all safety covers.
  • Solar / floating pool covers are not safety devices and are a serious entrapment hazard. If solar covers are used, they should be removed COMPLETELY before swimming or using the spa.
  • Above-ground pool ladders, when not in use, should be secured and locked, or removed. Ladders should never be accessible to children without adult supervision.
  • Alarms are an important addition to creating a safer environment. Alarms can be added to windows, doors, gates and the pool to alert an adult of unauthorized access. In the home, doors and windows that open to the pool area should be alarmed to alert adults when opened. The preferred system has a momentary shut off at the door located beyond the reach of children.

Swimming Lessons:

  • All adults and children should learn to swim.
  • Adults should be smart and aware; never consider children “drown proof” because they’ve had swim lessons. Nothing will ever eliminate the risk of drowning. Even an Olympic Swimmer can drown.
  • Speak with your pediatrician before considering any water safety/swimming lessons for children. With the right instruction, children can gain skills and a love for the water even at a young age. Ensure that swim instruction includes water safety and survival education at the appropriate developmental level.
  • Check if the instructor is trained in swim instruction, child development, and currently certified in CPR. Lessons should be continuous, year-round, not taken for just one season.

Preparing for Emergencies:

  • Keep a phone poolside for emergency use, so that an adult can call for help if needed.
  • Anyone who lives in a home with a pool should learn CPR and rescue breathing. Ensure that babysitters have current CPR training and certification. CPR training and certification should be refreshed every one to two years
  • Pool owners and operators should enroll in a local water safety course that teaches proper rescue techniques.
  • Keep a life-saving ring and shepherd’s hook at poolside. CPR instructions should be posted poolside. Know how to use the rescue equipment and perform CPR.

Entrapment Prevention:

  • The Virginia Graeme Baker Federal Pool & Spa Safety Act of 2008 requires that public pools and spas be equipped with anti-entrapment drain covers by 12/19/08. Residential pools and spas should also install anti-entrapment devices on all drains, including vacuum hose drains.
  • Ensure that swimming pool drains, in the bottom and sides of pools and spas, have anti-entrapment drain covers and a suction valve release mechanism and that all screws and bolts are secured.

Other Types of Water in the Home:

  • Never leave water in buckets, unused aquariums or coolers.
  • Never leave infants, toddlers or young children in a bath tub alone or with another child, not even for a second. Bath seats are not a substitute for adult supervision.
  • Ensure that spas have childproof safety covers and are locked when not in use. Check cover locks regularly for needed maintenance.
  • Secure or place barriers between children and man-made (ex: fountains or decorative ponds) or natural (ex: creeks, retention ponds) sources of water so that children cannot gain access without adult supervision.
  • Keep toilet lids locked and shut when an infant or toddler is expected to be present. Keep bathroom doors closed.

Additional Recommendations:

  • Neither adults nor children should swim alone, regardless of the age or ability of the swimmer.
  • Talk with teenagers about “risky behavior,” including diving or swimming in unfamiliar water, and the dangers of alcohol or drug use when engaging in recreational water sports or swimming.
  • Remove toys from in and around the pool when not in use. Don’t use floating chlorine dispensers that look like toys.

Additional items for another day:

  • Boating safety/river and lake safety:
  • Lifejackets
  • Lifeguards
  • Boating safety
  • Swim skills
  • Rip Currents



  • Know your backyard – checklists for safety
  • Get in good habits
  • Understand the real risk
  • Prepare for emergencies



  • Lifeguards & supervision
  • Swim skills
  • Lifejackets
  • Entrapment dangers