Drowning prevention

Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death for Canadian children. Almost 60 children drown every year and another 140 children are admitted to hospital because they nearly drowned. Near-drowning can result in long-term health effects. It can affect the way a child thinks, learns and plays.

What works to prevent drowning?Child wearing a PFD

Supervise closely. Adults should stay within sight and reach of any child under five years of age, or any older child who does not swim well – when he or she is in the water or playing near water. Studies show that lack of supervision is a major factor in many drowning incidents.1

Do not use baby bath seats. Babies have drowned in bath seats.2 Although warning labels recommend that parents or caregivers stay close by, the baby bath products can mistakenly be seen as a safe substitute for supervision. This gives adults the wrong idea that they can do other activities while the child is in the tub.3  Surveys in Canada and the United States indicate that almost half of parents use infant bath seats and rings.4, 5

Install four-sided 1.2 m (4 ft.) fencing around home swimming pools with an automatic, self-closing, self-latching gate. Researchers estimate that proper fencing could prevent seven of 10 drowning incidents in private swimming pools that involve children under five years of age.6, 7 In many homes, the back yard is surrounded by a fence, but the pool can still be reached directly from the house. This is not adequate fencing. 

Wear lifejackets on boats. Approximately 90 per cent of recreational boaters who have drowned in Canada were not wearing lifejackets.1 Boaters should choose lifejackets that fit according to weight, and buckle the straps. Canada’s cold waters make it hard for even a strong adult swimmer to survive until rescue without a lifejacket.

Teaching children how to swim must be combined with other effective protection strategies. There is limited research on the effectiveness of swimming lessons in preventing drowning incidents among children. It is recommended that children receive swimming training, but adults should not assume it will prevent drowning. 8, 9

Community Tools



1 Canadian Red Cross Society. What we have learned: 10 years of pertinent facts about drownings and other water-related injuries in Canada 1991-2000. Ottawa; 2003.
2 Health Canada. Proposal for legislative action on infant bath seats and bath rings. In. Ottawa; 2007.
3 Byard RW, Donald T. Infant bath seats, drowning and near-drowning. J Paediatr Child Health 2004;40(5-6):305-7.
4 Lee LK, Thompson KM. Parental survey of beliefs and practices about bathing and water safety and their children: guidance for drowning prevention. Accid Anal Prev 2007;39(1):58-62.
5 Safe Kids Canada. Safe Kids Week 2003 decima public opinion survey. In. Toronto; 2003.
6 Thompson DC, Rivara F. Pool fencing for preventing drowning in children. The Cochrane Collaboration; 1998.
7 Stevenson MR, Rimajova M, Edgecombe D, Vickery K. Childhood drowning: barriers surrounding private swimming pools. Pediatrics 2003;111(2):e115-e9.
8 Brenner RA, Saluja G, Smith GS. Swimming lessons, swimming ability, and the risk of drowning. Injury Control and Safety Promotion 2003;10(4):211-6.
9 Brenner RA, Taneja GS, Haynie DL, Trumble AC, Qian C, Klinger RM, et al. Association between swimming lessons and drowning in childhood: a case-control study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009;163(3):203-10.