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Water safety

Boy playing in outdoor pool Boy playing in outdoor pool  

Children under five are more likely to drown or nearly drown than any other age group. They can drown in a few centimetres of water - enough to cover their nose and mouth.

Never leave children unattended near water. The most common situations for drowning are:

  • swimming
  • boating
  • bath time.

Swimming

Backyard swimming pools

If you have a backyard swimming pool, check to make sure that it follows local by-laws.​​ Make sure a fence surrounds the pool on all sides. The pool should be completely fenced-in if a child could otherwise exit the house through sliding doors and directly enter the pool unsupervised.

A pool fence should to be 1.2 metres (4 feet) high and have a self-latching gate. The latch should be out of your child's reach so they cannot open it on their own. Keep toys and furniture away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing over it to get into the pool.

If any door in the house leads directly to the pool, it should close by itself and have a lock that a child cannot reach and open. The pool should always have a safety cover over it when it is not in use.

Other pool safety tips

  • Always have an adult watching children in the pool. This adult should know basic life saving skills and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for a baby and a child​.
  • Keep life saving equipment, such as a safety ring with a rope, near the pool.
  • Enrol children in swimming and water safety lessons by the time they are age four. Water safety programs for adults and younger children are also a good idea.
  • Even if your child has taken swimming lessons, have an adult watch them closely in and around water.
  • Children can drown in seconds; do not turn away to answer the phone or focus on something else. Do not assume that a child in trouble will be able to make noise to alert you.
  • Always check the pool first if a child is missing.

Lakes and rivers

Because lakes and rivers are not fenced in, it is even more important to watch children closely when at the cottage or the beach. Remember these safety tips.

  • Give your children your full attention. Make sure they know to always tell an adult before they go swimming. Young children should always be supervised when playing in or around water.
  • Children under the age of three or children who cannot swim should wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) in or around water. Young children should always be within arm's reach.
  • Put children on a buddy system so that if one is in trouble the other can call for help.
  • Make sure children swim close to shore. They should be able to see you at all times.
  • Teach young children how to swim or play within arm's reach.
  • Swim at supervised waterfronts and beaches.
  • Choose a safe place to swim. Check for hazards on the beach and in the water, including water pollution levels.
  • Watch for boats and jet skis while swimming.

Boating

By law, boaters must have life jackets or PFDs for each person aboard the boat. Life jackets offer a higher level of protection, but PFDs may be less bulky and more comfortable.

No matter which option you choose, it must be the right size, fit properly and be in good condition. If you want your child to wear a life jacket or PFD, set a good example and do the same.

Pay special attention to your children's PFDs. Each one should be chosen according to your child's size and weight, have a collar to keep their head up in the water, a handle on the collar to lift them and a safety strap so the PFD does not slide up over the head.

Other boating safety tips

  • Do not rock the boat. Move slowly when you enter the boat because it could tip over, or tip you out, if you are not careful.
  • Remind children to keep their arms, legs and head inside the boat at all times.
  • At least one adult should be able to see the child at all times to make sure the child does not fall into the water. Even if the water is shallow, it might be in a rocky area.
  • If sleeping on the boat, make sure young children cannot open a door or window and get outside unsupervised.

Bath time

At home, drowning in a bath tub is not unusual. This is because very young children do not have the motor skills to lift their heads above water or get themselves out of the water if they are in danger. Small children can even drown in water that is just a few centimetres deep.

Once an infant is in the tub, pay full attention to them. Do not turn your back or rely on another child to watch them.

Lock the door to the bathroom to prevent a child from entering and getting into dangerous situations there. For example, they may attempt to run a bath on their own in the same way they have seen a parent do it.

Many parents use bathing aids such as bath seats or rings to free up their hands to wash their baby. These plastic seats use suction cups to attach to the bottom of the tub and are designed to secure an infant until they can sit up unassisted. Although a bath seat can be convenient, it is not a safety device. Never leave an infant unattended while they are placed in one.

Whether or not you use a bath seat, children in the tub should be within arm's reach at all times and should not be left alone even for a second.

Key points

  • Most accidents happen when swimming, boating or bathing in the bath tub.
  • Children under five are most at risk for drowning.
  • Always supervise children near any water and keep young children within arm's reach.

Shawna Silver, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, PEng

5/27/2014






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