More Kids Drown In Open Water Than Pools

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Teaching your kids to swim means teaching them how to swim in open water, not just pools

With summer approaching, you’re probably getting ready for another season filled with visits to lakes, beaches, rivers, and pools–but a new report from Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen is warning parents that while pool drownings are decreasing each year, open water drownings among kids 0-19 are still a danger.

The study found that although all child drownings have decreased by 28 percent over the last 17 years, open water drownings only decreased by 13 percent — and now more kids die in oceans, lakes, ponds, quarries, and rivers than they do in swimming pools.

Image via Safe Kids

Why is open water more dangerous? Researchers think that a big part of the problem is that most kids learn to swim in pools and don’t know the dangers of other water environments, which could include factors like waves, currents, drop-offs, rocks, vegetation, temperature changes, poor visibility, and undertow. In addition, while families are on high alert at the pool, parents may be less likely to be vigilant when kids are playing near other types of water.

The study had other sobering statistics to share. A full 80 percent of kids and teens who drown are boys — likely because they’re socialized to take more risks, but also because parents are socialized to keep a closer eye on their girls. At the same time, African American and Native American kids were significantly more likely to drown.

“We see racial disparities in swimming ability and access to swim lessons,” Morag Mackay, director of research at Safe Kids Worldwide, told Today. “Something that society can do is really look at where opportunities are for kids learning how to swim.”

Another surprising statistic? The most dangerous type of open water is lakes, which were responsible for 38 percent of children drowning in open water in 2016. This was followed by rivers (23 percent) and ponds (20 percent). Oceans were only responsible for 4 percent of open water drownings.

Kids 15-19 were most likely to drown in open water –almost half of all victims were teens. This may be because teens are more likely to take risks and also more likely to be swimming without close adult supervision.

About 1,000 children died in drowning incident in 2016, while another 7,000 had to go to the ER after a water-related accident. Open water was to blame in a little over 4 out of 10 accidents, while swimming pools were to blame in a little under 4 out of 10 accidents. Bath tubs and other water sources were the scene of the accident in the other 20 percent.

Beyond working on your children’s swimming skills in all types of water, there are some simple steps you can take to increase safety for everyone while near open water:

  • Don’t get distracted while watching younger children. Taking turns as designated water watcher with several adults is the best way to keep kids safe while not getting fatigued.
  • Make sure inexperienced swimmers stay within arm’s reach of an adult, while older, experienced swimmers have a partner to swim with.
  • Know the basics of water rescue and CPR.
  • Check the weather before leaving on a swimming or boating outing, and be aware of the dangers of cold water.
  • Consider swimming only in areas that also have a lifeguard present and in designated swimming areas.
  • Talk to life guards about any specific dangers in the swimming area.
  • Always have kids wear well-fitting life jackets when boating. Poor open water swimmers should also wear life jackets while playing in water.

For more information and more safety tips, read the full report at Safe Kids Worldwide.

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