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Learn how to identify and help someone who is drowning.

Key points

  • Water safety is an important part of drowning prevention and keeping children safe.
  • Drowning children may be unable to yell for help. Children must be watched closely when in or near water.
  • Adults caring for children should be trained in CPR and respond as quickly as possible to save a drowning child.
  • Do not put your life at risk trying to save your child. If you must enter the water to perform a rescue, bring a flotation device with you.

Drowning can be fatal. Once water (or any liquid) enters the lungs, it prevents oxygen from entering the lungs and reaching the brain and the heart. Timing is critical when it comes to saving your baby or your child from drowning. Non-fatal drowning can cause long-lasting brain damage.

How can you prevent drowning?

The best way of preventing drowning is to practice water safety.

Proper supervision of children, pool enclosures and use of lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) in lakes and on boats are key to protecting children from water-related injury.

How can you tell if your baby or your child is drowning?

Be sure to monitor your child at all times when they are in or near water. Watch for signs of drowning because a child in distress will be unable to yell for help. Do not assume that a child in trouble will be able to make noise to alert you.

Signs of drowning

  • head tilted back with mouth open
  • floating face down
  • gasping for air

How can you help a child who is drowning?

Get trained in CPR, first aid and water rescue

All adults caring for children should be trained in CPR. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CPR is an emergency procedure that involves a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). There are specific sequences of steps for infants, older children and for drowning. Find a course close to you and ensure all adults who care for your children are trained.

Remove the child from the water

Call for help

Avoid putting yourself at risk trying to save your child

You should not put your life in danger trying to rescue your baby or your child. If your only option is to enter the water, bring a flotation device with you. This can be a lifejacket or even a pool noodle.

Checking for alertness, breathing, pulse and other injuries

Following the sequence of life-saving CPR steps will allow you to call for help, initiate rescue breaths and chest compressions, and use an AED (automated external defibrillator) if available.

When to see a health-care provider

Most children will need emergency medical treatment after a drowning episode. However, even after a non-fatal drowning episode that appears minor, a child can develop pneumonia from the water that has entered their lungs. Signs of pneumonia may develop within 2 days after submersion. Bring your child to a health-care provider if you see any of these signs in your baby or your child:

  • persistent coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • blue colour on skin and lips
  • loss of consciousness (fainting)
  • fever
  • being fatigued or very sleepy
Last updated: November 28th 2023