Mary Bridge Children's Hospital

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Center for Childhood Safety For information, call 253-403-1234

Water safety for children

Tips for keeping kids safe in and around water.

School-Age Children

Always use a life vest when on a boat, fishing, or playing in water

Teach your child to swim once he or she is ready (usually five years of age). Never let your child swim in any body of water without an adult watching who knows CPR. Keep a life preserver and shepherd's hook in the pool area. Teach your child safety rules and make sure they are obeyed:

  • Never swim alone.
  • Never dive into water except when permitted by an adult.
  • Always use a life vest when on a boat, fishing, or playing in water.
  • Don't let your child use inflatable toys/mattresses in water too deep for him/her.
  • Caution your child about the risk of falling through thin ice.

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers must be watched by an adult at all times when in or near water. Infants and toddlers may drown in an inch or two of water. Each year many young children drown in swimming pools and bodies of fresh water. Other water hazards in and near the home:

  • Buckets and pails, especially 5-gallon buckets and diaper pails
  • Ice chests with melted ice
  • Toilets
  • Bathtubs, even with baby bathtub "support ring" devices
  • Hot tubs, spas, whirlpools, and saunas
  • Irrigation ditches and wells

Additional water safety measures:

  • Empty buckets and bathtubs after each use. Do not leave unattended.
  • Keep young children out of the bathroom, unless they are closely watched. Teach others in the home to keep the bathroom door closed. Install a hook-and-eye latch or doorknob cover on the outside of the door.
  • Never, ever, leave an infant or toddler alone in a bathtub.
  • Use a rigid lockable cover on a hot tub, spa, or whirlpool, or fence all sides as you would a swimming pool.
  • Throw away or tightly cover water/chemical mixtures after use.
  • Watch children closely when they are playing in areas where there are wells or irrigation/drainage ditches. Install fences around these hazards.
  • Learn CPR and know how to get emergency help.

Life jackets

If your family enjoys boating, sailing, and canoeing, be sure your children wear the correct life jackets. Many children and adolescents think life jackets are hot, bulky, and ugly. But newer models look better, feel better, and are safe. Life jackets are required by many states and must be present on all boats traveling water supervised by the Coast Guard.

Consider what you are using the life jacket for before purchasing. Within each “type” of jacket there are multiple styles for different activities.

TYPE 1: This jacket floats the best. It is designed to turn most unconscious persons to upright and slightly backward. It is available in only 2 sizes: one size for adults more than 90 lb, and one for children less than 90 lb.

TYPE 2: This jacket turns the wearer upright and slightly backward, but not as much as Type 1. It may not always cause unconscious people to float face up.

TYPE 3: This jacket is designed so the wearer can get himself/herself in an upright and slightly backward position and stay in that position. This life jacket is ideal for water sports, and should be used only when the wearer could be rescued quickly.

TYPE 4: A life preserver is a cushion or ring, and is not worn. It is not safe. Check the label on the life preserver to be sure it meets Coast Guard or state regulations.

Use only life jackets and life preservers that are tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and approved by the Coast Guard. Life jackets should never be a substitute for adult supervision.

Remember these tips:

  • Your children should wear life jackets at all times on or near the water.
  • Teach your child how to put on his/her own life jacket.
  • Make sure your child is comfortable with the life jacket and knows how to use it.
  • Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your child. It should always be worn as instructed with all straps belted.
  • Blow-up water wings, toys, rafts, and air mattresses should never be used as life jackets or life preservers.