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Designate a water watcher when you are in, on, or around water. Watch all children and adolescents swimming or playing in or around water, even if they know how to swim. Young children or inexperienced swimmers need to be within arm’s reach of an adult at all times. Make sure a responsible person constantly watches young children in the bath.

An Appropriate Water Watcher

  • Is at least 16 years of age (adults preferred).
  • Has the skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress or can immediately alert someone nearby who has that capability.
  • Knows CPR or can immediately alert someone nearby with that skill.
  • Has a working phone to be able to dial 9-1-1.
  • Has a floating and/or reaching object that can be used in a rescue.
  • Is alert and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Here’s Why

More Information

  • A water watcher is not a substitute for a lifeguard. Choose a lifeguard protected area if possible, and designate a water watcher.
  • Prevention is the key role of a water watcher. Don’t wait for an emergency. Encourage safe activities and stop any unsafe or risky behaviors.
  • For any child who is a non-swimmer or lacks water competency skills, the water watcher should provide “touch supervision”, be close enough to reach the child at all times to grab the child.
  • Because drowning can be quick and quiet, the water watcher should pay constant attention, be undistracted, not be involved in any other activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present.
  • Parents, caregivers, aquatic facility owners, managers and operators should use multiple “layers of protection” to ensure safety. Layers of protection include ensuring that:

             > everyone learns to swim;
             > unintended access to pools or other bodies of water is prevented by fencing or other barriers;
             > U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejackets are used to aid inexperienced swimmers;
             > all swimmers are closely, attentively, continuously, and redundantly supervised by water watchers and/or lifeguards;
             > persons with the knowledge, skills and ability to safely effect a water rescue and initiate CPR are on site; and,
             > emergency services can be alerted if needed (access to 911).
Resources

Media Advisory on Proper Terminology

Drowning is not always a fatal event. Some people die as a result of drowning, while others survive with serious, life-long injuries, or none at all. Thus, the term “drowning” should not be used to imply death. According to the World Health Organization: “Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity. Agreed terminology is essential to describe the problem and to allow effective comparisons of drowning trends. Thus, this definition of drowning adopted by the 2002 World Congress on Drowning should be widely used.” 

About the Authors of this Document: Water Safety USA is a consortium of leading national governmental and nongovernmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs. Our mission is to empower people with resources, information, and tools to safely enjoy and benefit from our nation’s aquatic environments. Our membership is as follows:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Red Cross
Boy Scouts of America
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
National Park Service
National Safe Boating Council
Pool and Hot Tub Alliance
Safe Kids Worldwide
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
United States Lifesaving Association
USA Swimming Foundation
YMCA of the USA

Drowning is a leading cause of death for young children. Be aware of the potential risks and prevent unsupervised access to water. This includes in-ground and above ground pools and spas, portable pools, bath tubs, buckets and other bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, ponds and canals.

THE RISK

  • Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children 1 to 14 years of age and kills more children ages 1 to 4 than anything else except for birth defects. On average, three children die each day from drowning.
  • ​Drowning risks vary by age
    o Children younger than 1 year old are more likely to drown at home. 
    o Children between 1 and 4 years of age are more likely to drown in a home swimming pool or spa. 
    o Those 5 to 17 years old are more likely to drown in natural water, such as a pond or lake. 
  • Lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access is a main factor in many drowning incidents.
  • Pool and spa drownings occur in public and private settings, in backyard in-ground and above-ground pools, kids’ pools, apartment complexes and hotels. 
  • The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says that nearly 70% of young children who drowned in swimming pools were not expected to be in or at the pool.  
  • After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location where young children drown. However, buckets, bath seats, wells, cisterns, septic tanks, decorative ponds, and toilets, are also potential drowning sources for infants and toddlers.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Check for water hazards in your setting, such as an unfenced pool, liquid-filled buckets or an ornamental pond, then take appropriate precautions to prevent unsupervised access. 
  • ​Childproof your home against water hazards from bathtubs, bath seats, toilets and buckets:
    o Place locks on toilet seat covers in case a young child wanders into the bathroom. 
    o Empty unattended buckets containing even a small amount of liquid immediately after use, including buckets outside that can collect rainwater. Toddlers are top heavy and can easily fall headfirst into buckets and drown. After using a bucket, always empty and store it inside or where young children cannot reach it. 
    o Drain all water from portable and inflatable kiddie pools, and flip them over so they cannot collect rainwater.  
  • If you have a pool, spa or ornamental pond at home:
    o Install a fence that is at least 4-feet high, and completely separates the water from the house and yard. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward, with latches that are out of reach of children. See CPSC Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools for details.
    o In addition to a fence, install additional layers of protection, such as automatic door locks and alarms to prevent access and to alert you if someone exits the home and enters the pool area.
    o Install and use a door or pool alarm, and/or a pool or spa cover if the house serves as part of a pool or spa fence.
    o Make sure that pool or spa covers can support the weight of a child and not allow access to the water.
    o Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
    o For above-ground pools, the pool structure itself is a barrier, however be sure to prevent young children from climbing up into the pool by securing, locking or removing steps and ladders. 
    o Be aware of pet doors that lead directly to a pool or other backyard body of water. A fence between the house and the pool is a must if there is a cat or dog door.
  • If you have natural water on your property or near your home, such as a pond, river, lake, stream or canal, or if you have a neighbor with an unfenced pool or spa: 
    o Install fencing between the house and the water that prevents children from accessing the water without adult supervision.
    o Check your local building codes for requirements for residential fencing and housing complexes.
  • If you are away from home near bodies of water, such as a river, lake, pond, canal, or ocean shore: 
    o Set expectations and rules for children regarding going in or near the water, and strictly enforce them.
    o Closely and continuously monitor anyone who is unable to recognize the danger that water may pose—especially young children. Children can disappear quickly and are attracted to water. Don’t assume that a fence, sign, or verbal warning will keep children away from the water.
    o Swim only in designated swimming areas supervised by lifeguards or other undistracted water watchers who are capable of performing a water rescue.
    o Make sure that those with sufficient skill and maturity to participate in approved activities, such as swimming, boating, or fishing, are doing so in a safe area with appropriate supervision, such as lifeguards, and appropriate equipment, such as life jackets.  
    o When in, on, or near the water, insist that children and weak or non-swimmers wear properly-fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets that are appropriate for their weight and water activity.
  • Know how to provide proper supervision for children under your care in or near the water:
    o Become water competent and learn to swim.
    o Understand how risks vary with conditions, such as water depth, water clarity and currents, and adjust supervision and activities accordingly. For example, by choosing a safe swimming area or having participants wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. 
    o Learn CPR and basic rescue skills.
    o Always designate a water watcher when in or near water. 
       – Practice touch supervision while bathing the very young.
       – In a pool, keep young children within arm’s reach.
       – Avoid distractions, such as phone calls or texts.
       – Don’t leave a young child unattended, or under the care of another child, even for a moment.  
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Media Advisory on Proper Terminology Drowning is not always a fatal event. Some people die as a result of drowning, while others survive with serious, life-long injuries, or none at all. Thus, the term “drowning” should not be used to imply death. According to the World Health Organization: “Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity. Agreed terminology is essential to describe the problem and to allow effective comparisons of drowning trends. Thus, this definition of drowning adopted by the 2002 World Congress on Drowning should be widely used.” 

About the Authors of this Document: Water Safety USA is a consortium of leading national governmental and nongovernmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs. Our mission is to empower people with resources, information, and tools to safely enjoy and benefit from our nation’s aquatic environments. Our membership is as follows:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Red Cross
Boy Scouts of America
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
National Park Service
National Safe Boating Council
Pool and Hot Tub Alliance
Safe Kids Worldwide
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
United States Lifesaving Association
USA Swimming Foundation
YMCA of the USA

WHAT: Water competency means being able to anticipate, avoid, and survive common drowning situations, as well as being able to recognize and provide assistance to those in need. It includes water safety awareness, basic swimming skills, and helping others.

WHYDrowning is a major cause of accidental death. Drowning is a surprisingly fast, often silent injury. A weak or non-swimmer who stumbles and loses footing when unable to touch the bottom, can quickly start to drown. The person who is in trouble cannot move a few feet to safety and is unable to call for help. They may sink out of sight within seconds. Rescue needs to happen quickly so that the person can breathe and survive without brain damage. Fortunately, drowning situations can be avoided with good planning and being prepared.

Good swimmers are generally at less risk of serious mishaps in the water than poor swimmers, but even a good swimmer can drown. Preventing surprise and panic requires learning what to do before getting into the water.  Many drownings involve people who did not plan to enter the water.   Even when they plan to enter the water, many people underestimate the risks and overestimate their ability, or that of their children in water. Those completing entry-level swim lessons, particularly young children, may still not have the basic skills and knowledge for water competency. They still need close and direct supervision. Even those with good swimming skills may not be safe due to other factors, such as unfamiliar waters, water hazards, medical emergencies, alcohol or drug use, or other unsafe conditions.

WATER SMARTS: There is more to drowning prevention than swimming skills. Water safety is knowing about the water and the hazards in it and about having respect for the water. A person can learn to recognize and avoid some common water hazards like rip currents at beaches that carry a swimmer away from shore and underwater dangers like logs or sea life that sting, bite, snag, or trap swimmers.  Water safety is also practicing safe behaviors and stopping unsafe behaviors, like horseplay or diving headfirst into shallow water that can lead to spinal injuries, or consuming alcohol or drugs that can affect judgement, swimming ability, and physical reaction. Water safety includes understanding the layers of protection needed to keep ourselves and our loved ones safer when in, on, and around water. For example, wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket appropriate for their weight and water activity, and putting one on a weak or non-swimmer swimmer, adds a layer of protection. Water competency includes having sufficient knowledge to be responsible for one’s own safety as well as the safety of everyone you are supervising. Parents and caregivers should gain basic water safety knowledge and then set rules, coach their children, and closely supervise those not old enough to recognize and avoid hazards, dangerous situations, and risky behaviors. ​

SWIMMING SKILLS: Essential swimming skills include being able to enter the water and resurface, controlling breathing, floating, turning, and moving to safety in the water and exiting. However, the water environment, the activity, and even what the person is wearing can alter their ability to perform these skills.  Basic swimming skills may be adequate to swim a short time and distance in the deep end of a swimming pool, but greater skill and comfort in the water are needed when swimming in a lake, river, or ocean; in cold or rough water; and in waves or current.  The table below provides swimmers and parents with some reasonable guidelines to assess basic water competency and skills to look for when evaluating a swim lesson and water safety program. These swim skills should be seen as a foundation for gaining more experience and comfort in the water.

​The American Red Cross recommendations for water competency provide a starting point for assessing minimum swim skills for common pool environments. Those are included in the middle column of the table below, including the minimum proficiency to control breathing, float or tread water, turn in the water, and swim 25 yards using any type of stroke. Anyone lacking such basic skill levels should be closely supervised, stay in shallow water, or wear a life jacket, and seek instruction. A person just able to meet the American Red Cross criteria for water competency is still a novice, not a good swimmer and may not yet be ready for instruction or participation in various activities in different water environments beyond pools such as snorkeling, wakeboarding, surfing, or assisting with in-water rescues. Advanced skills are generally best acquired through specialized courses and may not be included in generic learn-to-swim progressions. 

HELPING OTHERS: Everyone should always swim with general supervision such as lifeguards and water watchers.  Children without basic swimming skills should be directly supervised by a water watcher who is within arm’s reach. Knowledgeable, attentive, supervision of all swimmers is important for drowning prevention and response, particularly for toddlers, children, and teens, even when lifeguards are on duty.  Supervision may be provided by designated water watchers such as parents and youth leaders who are alert, not distracted (reading, using a smart device or phone), not using alcohol or drugs, and focused on those near or in the water.

​Ideally, water watchers themselves should be fully water competent, knowing safe, simple rescue techniques.
Safe, simple rescue techniques include reaching and throwing a flotation aid from the water’s edge without entering the water. However, more skills may be needed to aid someone in trouble in the water. A toddler, or anyone else, on the bottom of a backyard pool needs immediate help from someone trained to safely enter the water, submerge to the victim, remove the victim from the water, and perform CPR. A victim struggling after stepping off a hidden ledge in a lake may be beyond reaching or easy throwing distance from shore. A competent swimmer with appropriate training should be able to safely wade or swim close enough to the victim to push a flotation aid for them to grab. Rescue and first aid skills are especially important for parents whose children swim in backyard pools or recreate in other aquatic settings where lifeguards are not present. 

Water Competency Components

WATER SMARTS

  • Know your limitations: respect the water and avoid unsafe behaviors
  • Never swim alone, swim with lifeguards and/or water watchers present
  • Swim only in a safe area, free from underwater hazards, including drop-offs, with safe entry and exit points
  • Do not dive into shallow or unclear water; enter feet first.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket while boating, regardless of swimming skill
  • Understand how physical fitness, medical conditions, and cold water change risk factors
  • Do not swim while using alcohol or drugs
  • Understand the dangers of hyperventilation and hypoxic blackout7
  • Understand how currents affect swimming in a river
  • Know how to recognize, avoid, and handle ocean rip currents
  • Know how to call for help

SWIMMING SKILLS

  • Step or jump into water over the head and return to the surface
  • Turn around and orient to safety as well as turn over
  • Float or tread water
  • Combine breath control with all swim skills, including forward movement in the water
    • Basic skill: swim to safety for at least 25 yards*
    • Advanced skill: Swim at least 100 yards using relaxed, restful strokes *
  • Exit the water
  • Perform all the skills above while clothed

*Note: Longer distances and length of times are necessary for competency in different water environments

HELPING OTHERS

  • Always provide close and constant attention to anyone (children, teens, & adults) you are supervising in or near the water.
  • Know how to recognize a drowning person
  • Learn SAFE ways to assist others who are in trouble
  • Learn CPR (both chest compressions and rescue breaths) and first aid

Media Advisory on Proper Terminology

Drowning is not always a fatal event. Some people die as a result of drowning, while others survive with serious, life-long injuries, or none at all. Thus, the term “drowning” should not be used to imply death. According to the World Health Organization: “Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity. Agreed terminology is essential to describe the problem and to allow effective comparisons of drowning trends. Thus, this definition of drowning adopted by the 2002 World Congress on Drowning should be widely used.” 

About the Authors of this Document: Water Safety USA is a consortium of leading national governmental and nongovernmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs. Our mission is to empower people with resources, information, and tools to safely enjoy and benefit from our nation’s aquatic environments. Our membership is as follows:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Red Cross
Boy Scouts of America
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
National Park Service
National Safe Boating Council
Pool and Hot Tub Alliance
Safe Kids Worldwide
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
United States Lifesaving Association
USA Swimming Foundation
YMCA of the USA

LIFE JACKETS SAVE LIVES
For more resources and information, click here to visit WaterSafetyUSA.org

Deaths from drowning are preventable tragedies that can affect anyone in, on or around the water. Wearing a life jacket is a simple life-saving technique and more people need know when to wear and how to choose a life jacket.

Life Jackets and Drowning Prevention
Even good swimmers drown. Water Safety USA members recognize that there are several safety steps required to be safe in, on and around the water (water competency, learning to swim, supervised access, designating a water watcher). Prevention is achieved through layering these protective measures. The guidance below specifically relates to the use of life jackets in overall water safety. 

Wearing a life jacket is a key component of boating safety, along with the knowledge and skill needed to keep various types of craft under control in different environments. Most states require life jackets to be worn by anyone 12 years old or younger. Even though regulations may specify that adults must have a life jacket readily available, the prudent choice is for everyone on board to always wear one. Modern life jacket designs offer comfortable options with minimal restriction on activities.

For swimming activities, key safety components include supervision, swimming ability and a safe swimming area. Whenever those are limited, life jacket use can make a lifesaving difference.

Choosing the Right Life Jacket
No matter what the water activity or life jacket style chosen, the most important thing is this: Remember to be responsible—always wear a life jacket when boating and when needed to ensure safety while in or near water. 

Not all U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets perform the same way. Some will rotate a person so they are face up if they become unconscious and some will not, so check the label to be sure it is appropriate for your planned activities and the water conditions you expect to encounter; ensure it fits properly; and test its performance so you are comfortable with how it fits and functions. Infants and younger children should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket with both a collar for head support and a strap between the legs.

Today’s life jackets come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets are sized by weight. Make sure that everyone is wearing one that is properly-sized. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.

Try It On

  • Check the manufacturer’s ratings for your appropriate size and weight. There are many manufacturers and styles so fit may differ.
  • Choose a life jacket that fits properly.
  • Life jackets that are too big will cause the flotation device to push up around your face, which could be dangerous.
  • Life jackets that are too small may not be able to keep your body afloat.
  • Make sure the life jacket is properly zipped and/or buckled.
  • Check for fit by raising your arms above your head while wearing the life jacket and ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up. The life jacket should not ride up over your chin or face.
  • Ensure your life jacket fits properly with no excess room above the arm and neck openings. A snug fit in these areas shows the life jacket fits properly.

Who Should Wear a Life Jacket

  • Anyone participating in any boating, paddling or towed water sport regardless of swimming ability.
  • Inexperienced or non-swimmers in pool or open water situations when other layers of protection are limited.
  • Preschool children—those about 5 years and younger—who are not protected by touch supervision either in or near the water. Touch supervision means being within an arm’s reach of the child(ren) at all times.


​In addition, it is recommended that everyone who is in or around open water wear a life jacket as an extra layer of protection, especially outside of a lifeguarded area.

Anyone participating in any boating, paddling or towed water sports regardless of swimming ability.
​Wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved properly fitted life jacket is the simplest life-saving strategy for recreational boating, paddling or towed water sports.

According to U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics in 2018 there were 4,145 reported accidents, 2,511 reported injuries, and 633 deaths on our nation’s waterways. A majority of those deaths (77%) were due to drowning and 84% of those were not wearing a life jacket. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers statistics show that for the last ten years most of the water-related fatalities that occurred at their lake and river projects were men (87%) age 18 and older (86%) and 87% were not wearing a life jacket.

Many people who participate in boating or a boating activity including fishing, hunting, paddling and towed water sports generally don’t think they will drown because they know how to swim, don’t plan on getting in the water, or it is a nice calm day so nothing is going to happen. Alcohol can impair one’s judgment and abilities in and around water. While enjoying your favorite boating activity please keep in mind that there is always a risk of drowning so expect the unexpected and prepare for it by wearing a properly fitted life jacket.
Inexperienced or non-swimmers in pool or open water situations when other layers of protection are limited.
Most people associate life jackets with boating, but they can also help provide support for inexperienced and non-swimmers in or around water, including open water, such as lakes, oceans, ponds, reservoirs and rivers, as well as controlled environments, such as a pool, waterpark or lifeguarded beach. Almost half of 10 to 17-year old’s who fatally drowned could swim according to available information on swimming in the National Child Death Case Reporting System for 2005-2014.

Inexperienced or non-swimmers, particularly children, are at risk in these settings when supervision lapses or the venue is very crowded. Life jackets provide an additional layer of protection in these situations.
Preschool children—those about 5 years and younger—who are not protected by touch supervision; Touch supervision means staying within an arm’s reach of the child(ren) at all times.
An analysis of child death review data found that supervision was missing almost half of the time that a child fatally drowned in a pool.

Swimming aids and water toys, such as water wings, and inflatable water wings and rings, are toys. They may provide some buoyancy in the water, but they do not prevent drowning.
 
Parents should remain attentive even if their children are skilled at swimming and comfortable in the water. Even though a child has become comfortable in the water, and with wearing a life jacket, constant supervision is still needed when they are in or around the water. Young children do not have the developmental maturity to reliably or consistently follow directions or safe practices, to have judgment or the ability to recognize risks.

Everyone needs to learn how to swim without a life jacket. Can’t swim? Enroll yourself and your children in swim lessons/water orientation classes to experience being in the water without a life jacket. Continue the journey of learning to swim and regularly getting in a pool with your children without life jackets.
In addition, it is recommended that everyone who is in or around open water wear a life jacket as an extra layer of protection, especially outside of a lifeguarded area.
While drowning in swimming pools gets significant attention, the fact is that more Americans fatally drown in open water. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among teens and young adults ages 15 and older (57% each) occur in natural water settings.

There is also an alarming difference in the number of fatal drownings in open water by gender, with males, and particularly teens and young adult males, at greatest risk. (84% of open water drownings in children ages 0-19 occurring in males, with males 10 to 14 years old 15.4 times the risk compared to females).

​Adults are also at risk. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has found that the majority of water-related fatalities that occurred at USACE lake and river projects nationwide were people age 18 or older (86%), male (87%), not wearing a life jacket (87%), and associated with swimming (54%).

One factor contributing to fatal drownings in open water may be the expectation that because an individual is able to swim in a pool, he/she will be safe in open water. However, open water, which includes lakes, oceans, ponds, reservoirs and rivers, has hidden hazards that can increase the risk of drowning. These include sudden drop-offs, dangerous currents, vegetation and rocks, colder temperatures, difficult-to-judge distances, rougher water including waves, limited visibility and more.

These environmental differences from the pool setting make it important for people who want to swim, wade, or just play in open water to find designated areas for swimming. If swimming outside of a designated area or in an area without lifeguards, people should always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved properly fitted life jacket appropriate for their weight and water activity.

Important Reminders

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for the water activities that you and your loved ones will be participating in. Read the label!
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit: right size and right weight rating.
  • Check your life jacket – make sure it is in good serviceable condition, with no tears or holes.
  • Life jackets are not swim lesson aids. However, exposure to life jackets during swimming lessons teaches a child how it should fit, and how it feels and performs in the water.
  • The main thing to remember is that a life jacket is just one of the layers of drowning prevention. Children who have learned to swim or are comfortable in the water or in a life jacket still need other layers of drowning protection, including close supervision, fencing barriers, and lifeguards or water watchers.

About the Authors of this Document: Water Safety USA is a consortium of leading national governmental and nongovernmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs. Our mission is to empower people with resources, information, and tools to safely enjoy and benefit from our nation’s aquatic environments. Our membership is as follows:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Red Cross
Boy Scouts of America
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
National Park Service
National Safe Boating Council
Pool and Hot Tub Alliance
Safe Kids Worldwide
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
United States Lifesaving Association
USA Swimming Foundation
YMCA of the USA

Water Safety USA, a consortium of national nonprofit and governmental organizations focused on drowning prevention, has announced its water safety message for 2020. “#BeBuoyant: Life Jackets Save Lives.” A properly fit life jacket is a very effective life-saving strategy in the quest to reduce the number of fatal drowning incidents in the country.

Who should wear a life jacket?

  • Anyone participating in any boating, paddling or towed water sport regardless of swimming ability.
  • Inexperienced or non-swimmers in pool or open water situations when other layers of protection are limited.
  • Preschool children—those about 5 years and younger—who are not protected by touch supervision either in or near the water. Touch supervision means being within an arm’s reach of the child(ren) at all times.


In addition, it is recommended that everyone who is in or around open water wear a life jacket as an extra layer of protection, especially outside of a lifeguarded area.

Anyone participating in any boating, paddling or towed water sports regardless of swimming ability.
​Wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved properly fitted life jacket is the simplest life-saving strategy for recreational boating, paddling or towed water sports.

According to U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics in 2018 there were 4,145 reported accidents, 2,511 reported injuries, and 633 deaths on our nation’s waterways. A majority of those deaths (77%) were due to drowning and 84% of those were not wearing a life jacket. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers statistics show that for the last ten years most of the water-related fatalities that occurred at their lake and river projects were men (87%) age 18 and older (86%) and 87% were not wearing a life jacket.

Many people who participate in boating or a boating activity including fishing, hunting, paddling and towed water sports generally don’t think they will drown because they know how to swim, don’t plan on getting in the water, or it is a nice calm day so nothing is going to happen. Alcohol can impair one’s judgment and abilities in and around water. While enjoying your favorite boating activity please keep in mind that there is always a risk of drowning so expect the unexpected and prepare for it by wearing a properly fitted life jacket.

Inexperienced or non-swimmers in pool or open water situations when other layers of protection are limited.
Most people associate life jackets with boating, but they can also help provide support for inexperienced and non-swimmers in or around water, including open water, such as lakes, oceans, ponds, reservoirs and rivers, as well as controlled environments, such as a pool, waterpark or lifeguarded beach. Almost half of 10 to 17-year old’s who fatally drowned could swim according to available information on swimming in the National Child Death Case Reporting System for 2005-2014.

Inexperienced or non-swimmers, particularly children, are at risk in these settings when supervision lapses or the venue is very crowded. Life jackets provide an additional layer of protection in these situations.

Preschool children—those about 5 years and younger—who are not protected by touch supervision; Touch supervision means staying within an arm’s reach of the child(ren) at all times. An analysis of child death review data found that supervision was missing almost half of the time that a child fatally drowned in a pool.

Swimming aids and water toys, such as water wings, and inflatable water wings and rings, are toys. They may provide some buoyancy in the water, but they do not prevent drowning.

Parents should remain attentive even if their children are skilled at swimming and comfortable in the water. Even though a child has become comfortable in the water, and with wearing a life jacket, constant supervision is still needed when they are in or around the water. Young children do not have the developmental maturity to reliably or consistently follow directions or safe practices, to have judgment or the ability to recognize risks.

Everyone needs to learn how to swim without a life jacket. Can’t swim? Enroll yourself and your children in swim lessons/water orientation classes to experience being in the water without a life jacket. Continue the journey of learning to swim and regularly getting in a pool with your children without life jackets.


In addition, it is recommended that everyone who is in or around open water wear a life jacket as an extra layer of protection, especially outside of a lifeguarded area.
While drowning in swimming pools gets significant attention, the fact is that more Americans fatally drown in open water. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among teens and young adults ages 15 and older (57% each) occur in natural water settings.

There is also an alarming difference in the number of fatal drownings in open water by gender, with males, and particularly teens and young adult males, at greatest risk. (84% of open water drownings in children ages 0-19 occurring in males, with males 10 to 14 years old 15.4 times the risk compared to females).

​Adults are also at risk. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has found that the majority of water-related fatalities that occurred at USACE lake and river projects nationwide were people age 18 or older (86%), male (87%), not wearing a life jacket (87%), and associated with swimming (54%).

One factor contributing to fatal drownings in open water may be the expectation that because an individual is able to swim in a pool, he/she will be safe in open water. However, open water, which includes lakes, oceans, ponds, reservoirs and rivers, has hidden hazards that can increase the risk of drowning. These include sudden drop-offs, dangerous currents, vegetation and rocks, colder temperatures, difficult-to-judge distances, rougher water including waves, limited visibility and more.

These environmental differences from the pool setting make it important for people who want to swim, wade, or just play in open water to find designated areas for swimming. If swimming outside of a designated area or in an area without lifeguards, people should always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved properly fitted life jacket appropriate for their weight and water activity.

Originally published on Water Safety USA.

Water Safety USA is a roundtable of longstanding national nonprofit and governmental organizations with a strong record of providing drowning prevention and water safety programs, including public education.​

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Water Safety USA’s mission is to empower people with resources, information, and tools to safely enjoy and benefit US aquatic environments. Its overarching approach is to engage in ongoing dialog aimed at improving the delivery of water safety information, tools and resources in such a way that their effectiveness is maximized.

The National Drowning Prevention Alliance is happy to announce that as of December 2019, the NDPA is an official member of Water Safety USA. “The NDPA is thrilled to announce our membership of such an important collective effort to combat drowning and make water safer.” said NDPA executive director Dr. Adam Katchmarchi. “We are proud and honored to join the roundtable and closely with other Water Safety USA members to enhance the mission of the NDPA.”

According to Water Safety USA, they have managed to harness the individual identities of each of its members as well as their objectives and further their reach through collective and collaborative strategies that are meant to increase the impact and effectiveness of our water safety and drowning prevention efforts.

With great satisfaction the NDPA joins the roundtable of equals that is Water Safety USA confident in the fact that will help us reach our ultimate goal of substantially reducing the number of unintentional drowning incidents and deaths reported in the United States of America.