Best Practices to Prevent Drowning | Best practices in injury prevention

Best Practices to Prevent Drowning

May 2004

The Problem

During 2000, about 3,500 Americans died in non-boat related, unintentional drowning. An additional 701 people died as a result of boating-related injuries, but the specific cause of death is unknown.

Drowning ranks as the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14. Males account for nearly 80 percent of drowning deaths. In Minnesota, 15 to19 year-old males have the highest drowning rates. Risk-taking behavior, overconfidence in swimming ability and alcohol use may play a role. Previous research (Howland et al. 1995 and Howland & Hingson 1988) has estimated that 25 to 50 percent of adult and adolescent drowning deaths are alcohol-related.

Drowning rates are higher for Asian Americans, American Indians, and particularly for African Americans, when compared to whites. Children less than a year old are most likely to drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets. Children ages 1 to 4 are most likely to drown in residential swimming pools.

According to the CDC, for each child drowning death, about six children need hospitalization or emergency-department care for their near-drowning or non-fatal submersion injury.

Prevention Strategies

    • Educate parents and caregivers about the drowning risk for children under age 1 from minute quantities of water (i.e., one cup of water).
    • Educate parents about the need for close supervision of children at pools, beaches, and all open water. Drowning and near-drowning can happen during a brief lapse in supervision. Two minutes following submersion, a child will lose consciousness, and after four to six minutes, irreversible brain damage occurs.
    • Promote and enforce pool safety measures and laws, such as building fences, installing locked gates and guards, and providing accessible telephones and emergency retrieval equipment.
    • Advocate for proper supervision of pools and beaches. According to the CDC, the chance of drowning at a beach monitored under United States Lifeguard Association standards is less than 1 in 18 million.
    • Discourage any alcohol use while swimming, hunting, fishing, or with any water-related activity. Provide water safety and swimming instruction to people of all ages. A CDC survey found that one-third of the adult population felt they were unable to swim one pool length.
    • Enforce boating laws, and cite boaters.
    • Support restricted youth access to alcohol.
    • Support legislation requiring that personal flotation devices be worn.
    • Offer insurance and other incentives for use of flotation devices.
    • Collect and analyze data, and support new prevention efforts.


(Search these sites for information related to the prevention of Drowning)

*There may be links on this site that are external to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The MDH is not responsible for the content of external sites, nor does it endorse or guarantee the services or information described or offered on external sites.

Injury Control Resource Information Network: Access data, other resources, and information on education and training.
Injury Prevention Web: Link to injury data for all states and 1,100 government and nonprofit organizations worldwide.
Injury and Violence Prevention Links: Access other sites that are related to injury and violence prevention.
National SAFE KIDS Campaign : Find information specifically related to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury.
Swim Healthy, Swim Safely, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Access this information about how to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe and healthy as you head for the water.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Warns about Pool Hazards, News Release: Learn about the launch of a drowning prevention initiative, which includes drowning prevention tips.
Water-Related Injuries Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Learn what groups are at highest risk for and about the risk factors of water-related injuries.

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