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Water Safety

Take these simple water safety steps to protect your kids

Colin’s parents want you to know that everyone is vulnerable in the water, no matter how well he swims.

Be a water guardian.

An adult should actively and visually supervise children who are near or around water. There’s no official ratio, but aim to have one adult on water-watching duty for every two or three children in the water. That person can’t have any distractions and must keep the children in sight at all times — even if there is a lifeguard on duty. No talking or texting on cell phones. No reading. No conversations with other adults. No browsing online. No grilling. No alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas in them. Just watching. A water guardian should know how to swim, use rescue equipment such as U.S. Coast Guard, approved portable flotation devices (PFDs) and a reach tool (which looks like a shepherd’s rod), have a phone nearby, and ideally know how to administer CPR. Water guardians of kids who cannot swim or swim well need to be in the water, within arm’s reach. They should always be able to see kids who are more experienced swimmers. Tell your child that he should never swim without an adult nearby. Explain why it’s important to have a “swim buddy” with him to get help if he needs it.

Teach your child to swim.

Kids 1 to 4 who take formal swimming lessons can reduce their risk of drowning by as much as 88 percent, research has found. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children as young as 12 months old take formal swim lessons if they are physically and emotionally ready to do so. (Note: There’s no evidence that these classes are beneficial for infants under 1 year of age.) Unfortunately, though, knowing how to swim isn’t enough to prevent drowning, points out Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide.

Never leave your child unattended near water.

You hear the phone while you are bathing your baby or toddler? Just let it ring, and advise other caregivers to do the same. Always check the pool or hot tub first if a child is missing. And don’t just look at the surface of the water — check the bottom of the pool, too.

Set up four-sided fencing for backyard pools and hot tubs.

Isolate the water area from your house and the rest of the yard. The fence should surround the pool area on all four sides so a child can’t get to it (say, through a back door or a window) without an adult’s knowledge. The barrier should be at least 4 feet high and climb-resistant, with self-closing and self-latching gates where the latch is placed at least 54 inches above the bottom of the gate. The gate should open away from the pool and should be checked often to ensure that it works. To prevent small kids from squeezing through, the distance between vertical fence posts should be less than 4 inches. You need the same barriers for portable above-ground pools as you do for in-ground pools. Some parents also get sturdy pool covers (not thin solar covers), pool alarms, and door alarms. Always drain the water from an inflatable baby pool after using it.

Insist on life jackets.

Make sure your children wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD when they’re on or near water. Kids who cannot swim should use a proper PFD, not “water wings,” “noodles,” or “inner tubes.” These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

Install anti-entrapment drain covers.

The Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Pool & Spa Safety Act mandates that states install safer drain covers at public pools and hot tubs (spas). The law and the drain covers (“VGB-compliant”) are named after a 7-year-old girl who died after becoming trapped by the suction force of a hot-tub drain. If you own a pool or a hot tub, learn about VGB-compliant drain covers at or talk to a qualified pool consultant.

Have a phone within reach.

Make sure it’s charged, and always call 911 in an emergency.

Learn CPR. In drownings, every second counts.

When a child is pulled from the water and isn’t breathing, timely CPR can truly be lifesaving. So get certified, then take a refresher course every two years to prevent your skills from getting rusty. The faster a person on the scene begins resuscitation, the better chance a child has of surviving and not suffering serious brain damage

Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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