A drowning child can’t speak or control their arms. They slip quietly under the water. It’s only in the movies they splash about and cry for help. It’s a scary thought.

Drowning happens silently.

But once you understand how and where drowning happens, there are things you can do to prevent it.

Babies and small children

At home, younger children are most likely to drown in the bath or garden pond. It’s important for parents to understand the risks of babies and young children being left alone, even for a moment. They may get no warning that something is wrong, as babies drown silently in as little as 5 cm of water.

While bath seats can be a useful tool in helping busy parents at bathtime, it’s important to remember they’re just a support, and NOT a safety device.

Think about your neighbours’ gardens too – young children can wander off into them and drown in garden ponds, even if you don’t think they have access.

Babies and small children – mostly drown at home in the bath or in the garden, in just a few centimetres of water. Keep them within arm’s reach.

Water safety in the bath:

  • Get everything you need ready before bath time.
  • Stay with your baby or young child all the time they’re in the bath. Keep them in arm’s reach.
  • Remember bath seats can topple or your baby can slip out. Don’t leave your baby alone in one even for a moment.
  • Don’t rely on your toddler to keep an eye on the baby while you pop out for a towel. They’re too young to understand the danger.

Water safety in the garden:

  • Empty the paddling pool out after you’ve used it
  • Turn a pond into a sandpit, or fence it in or cover it while your children are little
  • Make sure your child can’t get to the neighbour’s pond
  • Be alert to ponds, pools or hot tubs when visiting other people’s homes

Staying safe at the beach

Toddlers can wander off and fall into shallow water. As they don’t have a reflex to move their head sideways or push themselves upward, they can lie in the water and drown.

Keep your eye on them and act fast to get them out of trouble. Find out more.

Children under 8

Children under 8 still need to be actively supervised in and around water. They might understand safety instructions but are likely to forget in the heat of the moment. Remember that children don’t cry out for help and wave to be rescued. Instead they disappear under the surface of the water, often unseen.

  • Take them to safe places to learn to swim, like public pools and beaches with lifeguards.
  • If they’re in an unguarded pool, for example on holiday, stay close by, keep your eye on them and act fast to get them out of trouble.

Older children:

As children become older and possibly stronger swimmers, it’s important to talk to them about water safety. They may still lack the strength and skills to get themselves out of trouble if they find themselves in strong currents or deep water, or discover too late dangerous objects lurking in the water. Cold water shock can increase the risk of drowning.

  • Teach older children to choose safe places to swim like public pools and beaches with lifeguards
  • Explain the dangers of swimming in open water, including strong currents, deep, cold water and things under the surface they can’t see.
  • Teach your child to float. Watch this video from RNLI to learn how

At the beach:

  • Teach children to swim between the red and yellow flags – these mark the areas patrolled by lifeguards
  • Inflatables can be swept out to sea when the wind is blowing – keep children off inflatables when the orange windsock is flying and always keep an eye on them.

Children with medical conditions

Older children can also drown in the bath if they have a complex medical condition or a condition such as epilepsy and had a seizure in the bath. Stay with them all the time they’re in the bath.

More info:

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