Water Sense

Drowning is preventable. Take these steps to ensure your child’s safety.

Water Sense


In the heat of summer, water is a recreational mainstay – a sanctuary for parents and kids from the heat and the place for activities, games and fun.

But it’s also the place where kids die every year. According to SafeKids Canada, drowning is the second leading cause of death for Canadian children aged one to four. Every year, 58 children in Canada drown. And for every toddler who drowns, there are three to five near deaths from drowning that require a child to go to hospital. These near drownings can have life-time repercussions for the health of the child.

Toddlers are at high risk because they are naturally curious, says Canadian Red Cross spokesperson John Mulvihill. “And while they are able to walk, they are unstable and tend to be unaware of and unable to assess risks in their environment. They also lack the capacity for self rescue.”

Close supervision essential

What is the most important thing you can do to protect your child from drowning in a backyard pool, lake, river or other body of water? There is simply no better drowning prevention technique than adult supervision, says SafeKids Canada.

In a recent poll, 86 per cent of Canadian parents thought swimming lessons for kids would be the best way to protect them. While parents should enrol their children in swimming courses at a young age to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to play safely in the water, swimming lessons alone are not enough.

For one thing, kids under five do not have the physical skills needed to perform swimming strokes. And while kids over five can begin learning swimming strokes and water skills, they are still at risk. The need for adult supervision is clear when you consider that in nearly half of infant and toddler drownings, the victims were alone.

Close supervision means staying within sight and reach of your child when he is near water. “If your child is under five years old, or is a weak swimmer, stay within arms reach,” says Safe Kids Canada. And “be sure to watch older children closely too.” Don’t rely on a child’s sibling or a swimming buddy to look after your child.

Pools require proper fencing

Almost half of child drownings occur in backyard swimming pools. The problem: inadequate fencing.
Swimming pools that are fenced on only three sides allow easy access for kids. It only takes a few seconds for toddlers to slip out the door, slip into the water and drown. “There are approximately 38,000 private pools in Ontario, so the danger is real,” says Mulvihill. “The solution is security and supervision. There is no substitute for adult supervision. But adults also need to ensure that their backyard pools meet local fencing and safety requirements and safety equipment is on hand at all times.”

To be secure, swimming pools require four sided fencing – that is designed so that children cannot climb over, under or through it – plus a self-closing or self-latching gate. The gate must be designed so that the child cannot reach the latch. Statistics show that if all home pools were equipped with self-closing and self-latching gates, nearly all toddler pool drownings could be eliminated. So contact your local municipality or visit www.safekidscanada.ca to find out how to properly fence your pool.

Safety equipment for the pool includes a first aid kit, a phone for emergencies, a reaching pole and a ring buoy attached to a rope.

Use lifejackets and get training

A lifejacket is another important tool for keeping your child safe. Kids under five and weak swimmers should always wear lifejackets when in or around water. And everyone, including you, should wear a life jacket when riding in a boat. Make sure that the lifejacket you put on your child is appropriate for his/her weight and fits snugly.

In the event of an accident, parents should be able to swim and, ideally, should be trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), first aid and water rescue. Several community organizations offer first aid training and CPR including the Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, YMCA and local pools.

Be proactive

While the statistics may be alarming, it is important to remember that drowning is preventable. Just be sure to keep a watchful eye over your children, establish physical barriers, enrol them in swimming lessons and use lifejackets. By being proactive you can ensure your child enjoys a safe summer while playing, exercising, and laughing in the water.

Author: Jason Jackson

Jason Jackson is the communications coordinator at YMCA Northumberland. He is actively involved in all levels of sport as an athlete, coach and spectator.

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