Drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional death in children who are 4 years old and younger. As summer heats up in western Oregon and more people enjoy water activities, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw encourages families to take precautions to reduce the risk of drowning.

“As a pediatrician and a parent, I always remind parents that water and little kids, and even big kids, can be a very dangerous combination,” she says.

A new report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finds that, on average, 397 drownings of kids under age 15 happened each year between 2016 and 2018, and 75% of the deaths involved children under 5 years old. This year could be an especially dangerous summer because fewer kids took swim lessons during the pandemic, and that puts them at greater risk, says the CPSC.

Make supervision a priority
To help protect children around any body of water, be vigilant by always keeping an eye on them. Designate one adult whose sole responsibility is to supervise kids in the water. That adult should eliminate distractions, including chatting with friends and using devices, such as a cell phone.

In addition:

  • Avoid inflatable swimming aids. Pool toys, water wings and other floaties are not reliable flotation devices and may give children and parents a false sense of security.
  • Wear life jackets. Invest in properly fitting, Coast Guard-approved life vests, and have kids wear them whenever they are near water.

“If you are on a river or a lake, it’s important for kids to not just have a life jacket available, but to actually be in it,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Securing your pool
It’s recommended that at-home pools have a self-latching gate that surrounds all sides that is at least four feet tall. Even kiddie-sized pools pose a danger because young children can drown in less than two inches of water.

Dr. Bradshaw advises, “Either drain that pool every night and turn it upside down so that the kids can’t fall in it when you’re not there, or do something to make sure that the yard where the pool is located is 110% inaccessible by kids without an adult’s assistance.”

Never assume that a child who knows how to swim is not at risk for drowning. All kids need to be supervised in the water, no matter their swimming skills. If a child is under the age of 5, the supervising adult should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”

Open-water safety
Lakes, rivers and the ocean are also popular destinations for summer family fun. If you and your children will be boating or swimming in open water, the American Academy of Pediatrics provides these safety recommendations.

“For teenagers, it’s important for them to remember that jumping in the rivers around here is no joke,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “The water is really cold; you can become hypothermic within minutes and be unable to swim, even if you are a strong swimmer. The tides in the ocean around Oregon are really tricky, so having a healthy respect for the bodies of water in our state is part of swim safety.”

What to do in a drowning emergency
While you hope it never happens, it’s important to know what to do in an emergency. Familiarize yourself with these tips to help you prepare. For more information on local CPR training and swim classes, click here.