It's completely preventable, yet drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths of children five and younger in some areas of the nation's sunbelt.
Approximately 300 children under the age of five will drown in swimming pools each year and most of the time it will be in their own family's pool, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). And another 2,000 kids will be treated in emergency rooms for submersion injuries.
Older children share an almost equal level of risk. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death of children 14 and under, according to the American Institute for Preventive Medicine.
In San Diego County, California, the most current statistics report that there were 92 accidental drowning deaths from 2000 to 2002.
"A child can slip [under] the water within 5-10 seconds. It can happen that quickly -- they may not even struggle," said Erika Ferreira, Supervisor at the Carmel Valley Swimming Pool in San Diego, California.
Ferreira says the first line of defense is parental supervision and that means parents should be looking everywhere. "A lot of people just look at the top of the water; there's a lot going on under the water as well," said Ferreira. Often the trouble is brewing beneath the surface and a serious injury could be prevented if parents notice what's going on below the water.
Drowning is a silent death; often there is no splashing and it can happen in the few seconds that it takes to answer the telephone.
Even if your child has had swimming lessons, parents still have to keep a watchful eye at all times, "There's no such thing as water safe," said Ferreira.
Fiona Kelly, Associate Aquatics Director at UCSD Campus in La Jolla, California, says being comfortable in the water and being a good swimmer, of course increases safety. But for the very young, physical precautions are needed.
"A toddler can drown in a very small amount of water," said Kelly.
There are many things parents can do to keep children safe. Really it's about creating layers of protection by using barriers such as fences, walls, or gates that lock and alarms that sound when someone has opened the door to the pool area.
CPSC says walls should be at least four feet tall and chain link fences should not allow the diamond opening area on the fence to be more than 1-3/4 inches, while vertical fence slats should be less than four inches apart.
Here are a few more safety reminders to take the hazard out of pool fun:
- Always have parental supervision when children are in the pool, even if they know how to swim.
- Supervising parents should be CPR certified.
- Hire a certified, insured lifeguard for backyard pool parties.
- Make sure kids have enough energy to be in the pool.
- Continue swim lessons to improve their comfort in the water.
- Fence in your pool with a locking gate and use a pool cover.
- When the pool is not being used keep toys away from the pool so that children don't fall in the pool while trying to reach for them.
- Even if your child is using a flotation device, parents should still be in the water with the child.
- Educate your kids about water safety.
- Check with the American Red Cross for booklets and programs on water safety.