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Prevent Drowning: Water Safety Tips and Advice

Hopefully, it’s not something you’ve ever experienced or will ever have to. But drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death worldwide, with children considered amongst those at most risk of drowning every summer.


Water safety

We all want our children to have fun and enjoy themselves, whether they are swimming in a pool or looking at the tadpoles in the pond. And while I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, there are times when I know I need to be extra vigilant.

Children can drown in just a few centimetres of water – so the hazards apply even in the little paddling pool in the garden.

With toddlers and babies, it goes without saying that constant supervision is vital. Older children can be taught water safety to limit the risks, but at the moment only a third of parents are confident their child knows how to be safe near water.

The Royal Life Safety Society has some useful tips you can share with your child or see if your local swimming pool has swimming classes that include water safety.


What does drowning really look like?

If asked to describe what drowning looks like, most of us would mention a person flailing around in the water. But drowning isn’t usually the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect.

“Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.” – says Dr Pia, lifeguard and drowning prevention consultant


Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Lack of noise – if your child has gone quiet, you need to find out why
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over the forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs—vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
  • Drowning can look like a silent doggy paddle. So if you are unsure, call out to your child – if they don’t respond, you need to jump into action.


What to do if you see your child drowning


You may find it helpful to download the St John’s Ambulance first aid app, which guides you through CPR for children.

You need to react immediately – children can only struggle on the surface of the water for less than 60 seconds before they go under.

  1. Call for help – this could be a lifeguard or the emergency services.
  2. If it is safe for you to do so, get their head above the water, and get them out of the water if possible.
  3. If it’s a cold day, take off any wet clothing and cover them with a dry coat or blanket.
  4. Check for a response by gently shaking them or calling out to them. If there is no response, check for normal breathing (this does not include gasping, which is an uncontrolled reflex).
  5. Pinch their nose and give five rescue breaths, with your mouth completely over theirs. Their chest should rise and fall.
  6. Check again for signs of life (including crying or movement) – check for a pulse if you know how to.
  7. If there are no signs of life, make sure they are on a hard, flat surface and begin chest compressions.
  8. Put the heel of one hand on your child’s chest, and the other hand on top.
  9. With your arms straight, push hard 30 times to the rhythm of ‘Staying Alive’ – it will feel very rough, but remember you are trying to do the job of their heart and pump blood around their body. Children’s bones are soft and any broken bones will heal.
  10. After 30 chest compressions, give two more rescue breaths.
  11. Continue going between 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until they show signs of life, an ambulance arrives, or you are unable to keep going (have someone else take over if possible).


(Click to enlarge the image)


You can use a defibrillator (if there is one available) on any child over the age of one, but make sure you dry your child’s chest first so that the AED pad will stick properly.

As parents, we’re often worrying about getting things wrong. But in this situation, however scared or unsure you are, doing something is always better than doing nothing.


What is dry drowning?

There is also another kind of drowning: dry drowning, also known as delayed or secondary drowning. This is when water gets into the lungs in small amounts but there isn’t enough to disable breathing – and, after a cough and a splutter, all seems well.

However, the water sits in the lungs and inhibits a child’s ability to oxygenate blood. Over time, they have more and more trouble breathing.

Someone who has water in their lungs may cough, have chest pains, or sickness. They may be extremely tired (a sign that the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen), their lips may turn blue and their skin may go pale.

All of these are signs that secondary drowning may be occurring. If you suspect your child is at risk, you need to closely monitor the situation and seek medical help if the symptoms don’t go away or they become worse.


Children love playing in the water and it is important that they get the opportunity to do so. Prevention is key so be sure that your child is aware of water safety and that they are always supervised.

Remember that drowning doesn’t look like drowning and make sure you are prepared – should the worst-case scenario happen – by learning those all-important first aid skills.