As drowning deaths increase, experts offer water safety tips for families and caregivers

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As summer gets underway, a recent report sheds light on the importance of swimming and water safety strategies. 

Each year, some 4,000 unintentional drowning deaths occur in the U.S., with the highest rates among children between 1 and 4 years of age, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Drowning is the leading cause of death among children age 4 and under, and it is one of the three leading causes of death due to unintentional injury among those aged 5 to 34, the report said.

DROWNING PREVENTION: KEEP KIDS SAFE IN AND NEAR THE WATER WITH THESE TIPS

“With drownings on the rise across the U.S., especially among young children, it is more critical than ever to ensure that water safety is always top of mind,” Megan Ferraro, executive director of The ZAC Foundation.

It’s a Connecticut-based organization that develops educational programming and resources for swimmers of all ages and abilities, she wrote in an email to Fox News Digital.

Girl climbing into pool

Each year, some 4,000 unintentional drowning deaths occur in the U.S., with the highest rates among children between 1 and 4 years of age. (iStock)

The number of unintentional drowning deaths has risen in the years since the COVID pandemic, the report revealed.

Between 2020 and 2022, the increased drowning rates may have been caused by infrastructure disruptions, limited access to supervised swimming venues, and individuals spending more time in or near water, said the CDC.

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Despite these risks, more than half of U.S. adults have never taken a swimming lesson.

Heading into the thick of beach and pool season, several swim and water officials shared these eight water safety measures to prevent tragic drownings.

1. Choose swimsuit colors carefully

Some swim instructors suggest dressing children in bright-colored bathing suits and avoiding colors that blend with the surrounding water.

Child bright swimsuit

Some swim instructors suggest dressing children in bright-colored bathing suits and avoiding colors that blend with the surrounding water. (iStock)

Nikki Scarnati, a certified infant swimming resource instructor in Florida, used her TikTok platform to warn parents to avoid buying blue or pastel-colored bathing suits, which can make it difficult to spot children in the water

In her 2023 social media post, she demonstrated how it was easier to see bright colors, such as red, in splashing water.

2. Don’t skip the swim lessons

Water safety instructors recommend enrolling children at an early age in swim lessons through local organizations. 

“Studies have shown that swim lessons reduce childhood drowning by 88%,” Ferraro noted.

Many organizations, like the American Red Cross, offer swim classes to help individuals become more comfortable in the water and learn to become stronger, safer swimmers.

“Studies have shown that swim lessons reduce childhood drowning by 88%.”

Experts also suggest taking added precautions, such as installing alarms and gates, to prevent children from wandering into pool areas unsupervised.

3. Be aware of high-risk children

“Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children with autism,” Lindsay Naeder, the Philadelphia-based vice president of community impact for Autism Speaks, told Fox News Digital.

Swim lessons

Water safety instructors recommend enrolling children at an early age in swim lessons through local organizations.  (iStock)

Naeder emphasized the importance of educating beach and pool lifeguards about how to recognize signs of distress in swimmers with autism.

“You can work with lifeguards to understand the different behaviors of autism and how to best communicate with an autistic individual, especially during an unsafe situation,” Naeder said via email to Fox News Digital.

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4. Install safeguards for older swimmers

When caring for adults with dementia, installing gates and pool alarms can prevent dangerous situations in the event that the individual gets confused and wanders, some experts told Fox News Digital. 

“Caregivers of elderly adults with dementia need to identify potentially dangerous areas near their homes, such as pools and all bodies of water,” Ferraro told Fox News Digital.

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She recommended choosing an alarm that beeps if a door to the pool is opened or if the surface of the water is disrupted by movement.

“Make sure a senior with dementia never swims alone,” she added. “A swim buddy or guardian should always be close by.”

5. Know the ABCDEs 

Parents and caregivers must use multiple layers of protection when it comes to keeping families safe in and around water, Ferraro told Fox News Digital.

Pool gate

Installing locking fences and other barriers around water is an essential component of pool safety, experts say. (iStock)

“This means following the ABCDEs of water safety: A is for Adult supervision, B is for Barriers around water, C is for swim Classes, D is for avoiding Drain entrapment and using Devices such as Coast Guard-approved lifejackets, and E is for Everywhere — because water is all around us,” she said.

6. Remain vigilant while in large groups

As pool party season gets underway, it is important to remain vigilant.

“In large groups, like a pool party, everyone assumes someone else is watching the children in the pool — this is known as the diffusion of responsibility,” Ferraro warned.

“Don’t ever assume someone else is watching your kids around the water.”

“Don’t ever assume someone else is watching your kids around the water, because this can have deadly consequences.”

Parents should ensure that children are swimming in lifeguard-designated areas — and it is important to provide close, constant supervision even if lifeguards are present, Ferraro noted.

Swimming kids

Parents should ensure that children are swimming in lifeguard-designated areas, and it is important to provide close, constant supervision even if lifeguards are present. (iStock)

“Designate an adult ‘water watcher’ whose sole responsibility is to keep a watchful eye on those in the water at all times,” she recommended. 

“Never leave a child unattended in or near the water, not even for a second. Make sure children are within arm’s length of an adult at all times when at the pool or beach.”

7. Ensure pets’ safety

It is also important to protect your pets’ safety in the water, noted Ferrara with The ZAC Foundation.

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“Always keep your eyes on your pet around water, and never leave them unattended,” she said. “Be aware that not all dog breeds are natural swimmers.”

8. Be mindful of water differences

Swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool, experts warn.

“If you swim well in a backyard pool, that does not mean you can swim well in the ocean,” George Gorman Jr., regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told Fox News Digital. 

Swimming ocean

Swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool, experts warn. (iStock)

“You need to stay close to shore, and gain experience.”

Gorman, who oversees many of the ocean areas along the shores of Long Island, New York, also warned people to be mindful of rip currents that may occur in ocean waters

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“If you are caught in a rip current, do not fight against it,” he advised. “Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you notice the current diminishing and you are out of it.” 

He also recommended swimming with a buddy, and maintaining a distance of around 25 feet if a rip current is encountered.  

“This way, your buddy has time to react and escape to get help.”

To avoid an unwelcome encounter with certain marine life, such as sharks, Gorman said to avoid murky water and to look for signs that a larger fish may be in the vicinity.

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“If you see splashing fish or diving seabirds, that usually means there are smaller fish in that area — therefore, larger fish may be headed there to feed on those smaller fish,” Gorman said. 

It’s also wise to avoid areas where larger fish, such as seals or dolphins, have been spotted.

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