Drowning and drowning prevention: what you need to know
Drowning can occur quickly and quietly, without any warning noises.
Drowning is one of the major causes of death for children under 5 years. Babies and toddlers are top-heavy, which puts them at higher risk of drowning. If they fall into shallow water, they can’t always lift themselves out.
In Australia, children under 5 drown in:
- swimming pools
- baths and spa baths
- rivers, creeks and streams
- the sea
- dams, lagoons and lakes.
Children also drown in less obvious locations, like nappy buckets, water tanks, water features and fish ponds – even pets’ water bowls.
For every child who dies from drowning in Australia, approximately 7 other children are hospitalised from near-drowning incidents. Some of these incidents result in severe brain damage.
Water safety for kids: the basics
It’s essential to always stay with your child and watch closely whenever they’re near water – even when your child can swim.
Supervision means being able to see your child and also keeping your child within arm’s reach at all times. You should be able to respond quickly, whether you’re at the beach or the swimming pool, near dams, rivers and lakes, or at home near the bath or spa. Hold your child’s hand when you’re near waves or paddling in rivers.
Supervision is not an occasional glance while you nap, use an electronic device, read or do household chores. It’s not watching your children playing outside while you’re inside. It’s always best for an adult, not an older child, to supervise.
You should also teach your child about water safety and how to swim from a young age. Many children can learn to swim by the time they’re 4-5 years old.
First aid is an essential skill for the entire family to learn. If you know how to do CPR and what to do in an emergency, it could save your child’s life.
If you find a child in or near a body of water and the child isn't breathing or responding, take emergency action. Call 000 and start CPR. Check out our illustrated guide to CPR for babies under 12 months and our illustrated guide to CPR for children and teenagers. You could print them out and display them for easy reference.
Water safety around the house
The majority of drowning deaths in Australia result from a child falling or wandering into water, particularly into a backyard pool. But a young child can drown in just a few centimetres of water.
Here are tips to prevent drowning and improve water safety around your house:
- Remove any containers with water in them from around the house. Make sure your child can’t get to any bodies of water, including the bath, on their own.
- Use a nappy bucket with a tight-fitting lid and keep the bucket closed, off the floor and out of your child’s reach.
- Supervise children under 5 years in the bath, even if older siblings are in the bath with them. Older siblings don’t have the skills to react to an emergency situation, like drowning.
- Empty the baby bath as soon as you’re finished with it so older siblings can’t climb in.
- Empty sinks, tubs, buckets, baths, basins, troughs and paddling pools immediately after use.
- Secure covers to ponds and birdbaths and cover other water features with wire mesh, or keep them empty until your child is at least 5 years old.
- Stay on the inside of the pool safety fence when supervising children in a pool area.
- Keep aquariums and fishbowls out of reach of small children.
By law, in most states and territories, all private swimming pools or spas that are 30 cm deep or deeper must have a swimming pool safety fence. This includes inflatable pools that can hold more than 30 cm of water. All swimming pool safety fences must meet Australian Standard 1926 (AS 1926) safety requirements. Remove any objects near the pool fence or in your yard that your child could climb on to and use to get over the pool fence.
Water safety around dams, creeks, ponds and tanks
Children don’t always understand, apply or remember rules, especially when they’re distracted by play. So a securely fenced, safe play area can be an effective barrier between children and water hazards.
Here are tips to improve water safety around your property:
- Fence off the area between the house and any bodies of water.
- Teach your child to not go near the dam, creek or water tank without you.
- Secure a child-proof lid over any water tanks.
- Fence off, drain or seal ponds if your children or visiting children are less than 5 years old.
- Make sure there are no trellises, ladders, windows or trees that your child could climb to get over fences or into water tanks.
Water safety around beaches, the sea, lakes and rivers
Here are tips to improve water safety on the beach and near the sea, lakes and rivers:
- Always stay with your child when they’re playing in or near the sea, lakes or rivers. Hold your child’s hand near waves and when paddling in rivers.
- Take your child only to patrolled beaches where surf lifesavers are present, and swim only between the red and yellow flags. And supervise your child at all times, even when surf lifesavers are present.
- Teach your school-age child what to do if they need help – stay calm, float and raise an arm to signal to a lifeguard or lifesaver.