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The Alarming Truth About Drowning

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Can you name the top 3 causes of death for children under the age of 9? If you guessed drowning is one of them, you're only one step closer to saving the life of a child or a friend.

Let's do a reality check with some hard to swallow facts.

According to data I've extracted from the CDC website, using the Fatal Injury Data Visualization tool, the top 3 causes of death for children ages 0-9 from 2010-2018 are:

  1. Suffocation

  2. Car Accidents

  3. Drowning

For the past 10 years in the USA, drowning has been the third leading cause of death for children ages 0-9!!! You can see this in picture form below.

Leading Cause of Death for Ages 0-9
Leading Cause of Death for Ages 0-9

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Notice what happens when we adjust the age range from 1-5 years old.

Leading Cause of Death for Ages 1-5
Leading Cause of Death for Ages 1-5

Suddenly, the Number 1 cause of death becomes DROWNING!

How about data from around the world and not the U.S. alone?

According to WHO, around the world in 2016 (age group 5-14), the 4th leading cause of death was drowning. You can play around with these statistics from their website by clicking here.

The data is shocking, no matter how you filter it. Shouldn't this be part of the instruction manual they give new parents before taking their newborn home? Oh wait...there is no such manual. I might have to make one.

So, to reiterate, not disease, not skipping vaccines, not hunger, but the number 1 cause of death is drowning? I had to ask myself...why is this happening? Why haven't the statistics improved over the past 10 years?

I wish the statistics were ZERO. But life isn’t that way. An ancient wise man once observed: "Time and unpredictable events overtake us all.”

If this tragedy has affected your family, I am very, very sorry. It's impossible for parents to be there 100% of the time and protect their children from every accident. Oh how we wish we could!

The beautiful thing about children is that they are naturally curious and adventurous. They love water. But they are completely unaware of danger, can be unpredictable in their behavior and they move fast!

What am I personally doing to prevent this tragedy?

I've decided to focus on drowning instead of suffocation or car accidents for the following reasons:

  1. Summer is near so people are opening their pools and are getting excited about swimming.

  2. Last year, my neighbor’s 3 year old great-granddaughter drowned in the family pool and in another neighborhood a young child nearly drowned in a friend’s pool but was rescued in time.

These two situations in my local area alerted me to a danger I haven't educated myself enough on.

I have a 7 year old son, I’m not immune to what the stats represent…devastated parents, brokenhearted families and children no longer with us.

These numbers tell me something else, this tragedy can happen to anyone, even to the most loving parents!!! Please don't think it cannot happen to you. This epidemic is not a case of neglect but it MIGHT mean that parents and friends are missing crucial knowledge on how to prevent drowning.

Most drowning accidents happen with adults nearby and supervising. Why?

Because drowning doesn’t look like what we have been conditioned to think it should by television drama. When someone is struggling in the water, they cannot physiologically call out for help, they do not flail their arms.


They may not even look like they need help. The following warning signs apply to slightly older children and adults.

Do you know these 10 alarming signals of drowning?

  1. Head titled back and mouth open or child's head falling forward.

  2. Trying to swim but not making headway (may seem like the child is playing).

  3. Climbing an invisible ladder.

  4. Body is vertical as if standing.

  5. Arms may be outstretched, no kicking is evident.

  6. Unable to wave, may look as if they are relaxing.

  7. Unable to call for help because breathing becomes priority.

  8. Mouth at water level, gasping or hyperventilating.

  9. Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus.

  10. Eyes may be open or closed.

Warning: a child can drown even while being supervised.

Let's break down the signs of drowning into two simple words. Silence and Movement.

Silence. Breathing becomes the main focus of someone drowning. They are struggling to breathe as they sink below the water and try to come up for air. They are literally unable to speak or call out for help. Children are naturally loud and boisterous. Always be concerned when children are quiet or not moving much! Even if they know how to swim ASSUME they need help. It’s better to be wrong that way than the other!

Movement. A person drowning instinctively presses their arms out and down in an effort to hold their mouths above water. They cannot voluntarily control their arm movements so they cannot wave for help. Their bodies remain upright and there is no kicking motion. A drowning person will not ask for help or be able to move closer to a rescuer.

Of course, if someone is asking for help, by all means, HELP THEM.

Have you ever heard of dry or secondary drowning?

After a near-drowning incident a child should be watched carefully for 24 hours and up to a week. If they develop nausea, diarrhea, restlessness, blue lips, coughing or trouble breathing call 911 and tell them about the water incident.

In secondary drowning, death can come much later due to an excess of water in the lungs that prevents the lungs from absorbing oxygen. This is a much rarer occurrence but still noteworthy for parents to know if their child has experienced a near drowning episode.

And finally...

The Top 13 Safety Tips to Prevent Drowning

  1. Dedicated, focused, constant adult supervision!!!

  2. Educate EVERYONE watching your children on the signs of drowning.

  3. Stay within arm’s reach or swim with your child. Don't let others take your child swimming.

  4. Don’t rely on flotation devices, pool noodles, rings, etc. Use only U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around any body of water.

  5. Avoid alcohol use around the pool or hot tub.

  6. Install a well-designed fence around the pool.

  7. Install a self-latching gate at the entrance of the pool.

  8. Install an alarm on any door that opens to the pool or on the pool gate if possible.

  9. Teach children how to swim (but don't rely on their skills).

  10. Teach children the 5 basic safety skills in water.

  11. Learn CPR.

  12. Keep a cell phone near you when visiting any pool or body of water.

  13. Be extra vigilant when on vacation or when visiting a friend's pool.

Drowning happens in 20-60 seconds and much less for small children!!!

The harsh truth about children under 4 is that they sink right to the bottom!

Never, ever leave babies or children in a bathtub unattended! Not even for a few seconds. It only takes 1 inch for babies to drown.

In many cases younger children drown when no one is at the pool, they simply slip outside the house when no one's paying attention and fall into the pool. Pool barrier safety is critical but certainly not child proof.

Let me emphasize the NUMBER 1 safety tip again, adult supervision done the right way! Designate an adult to intently watch the children. Assign no more than 2-3 children per adult. Make sure the watcher is educated on the signs of drowning.

It is critical that the watcher does not talk on the phone, text, read books or have conversations. Their one and only task should be to keep their eyes on the children. It's useful to have a TAG or some ITEM that the watcher holds in order to remind themselves that they are the watcher. Make sure to give the watcher a break and swap time with another adult.

Another quick danger to note is the suction drain in larger pools. Most pools have safety features to prevent this accident but not all are up to code. There have been reports of children getting stuck in the powerful suction of the drain which is comparable to the force of 500 pounds. In other words, if a child is stuck in the drain there is no way one person can simply pull the child away, it would be equivalent to picking up 500 pounds. Click here for more information about pool drains.

If you think I am crazy, do you remember what happened to Usher's son in 2013?

Beware of the following for children under 4.

Young children can drown in 1 inch of water!

  • Supervise bath time, never leave a child alone in a tub, not even for a few seconds!

  • Install a childproof safety lock on the toilet seat.

  • Empty buckets, small or inflatable pools and other containers.

Did you learn anything new from this article?

In Summary...the number 1 cause of death for children 1-5 is drowning and it's the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 0-9.

Children can drown in less than 20 seconds. They need to be supervised at all times around any water deeper than an inch.

Know the signs of drowning, because drowning is a silent killer.

Follow the 13 safety steps to prevent drowning.

When on vacation, or anywhere where this is a body of water, be extra vigilant!!!

Here are some useful links:

To learn how to properly install a pool fence, download this comprehensive guide to Pool Barrier Safety.

Can your children perform the 5 basic skills in water that can save their lives? Click here for the challenge.

Drowning doesn't look like drowning by expert Mario Vittone.

Special Download Now Available

I've created a free Watcher Tag which can be downloaded and printed (no email or signup necessary). The tag is in pdf format. Please print it on heavy card-stock paper, punch a small hole on the edge and attach the tag to either a spiral bracelet or heavy necklace for an adult to wear. Be creative!

I'm the Watcher
Download PDF • 22KB

Action items...

Do you know any parents, grandparents, babysitters, friends or people with pools that could use this information? Educate others and you could save a life. Please share this article.

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