Pool safety

What we know about child drowning

  • Almost half of all child drownings occur in backyard swimming pools.
  • Most children who have drowned in backyard pools fell into the water during a very brief period when their parents or caregivers were not actively watching them.
  • Drownings often happen quickly and quietly. An adult who is not actively watching a child will not hear the child slip into the water and drown.
  • Research demonstrates that a fence which provides a complete barrier around all sides of a pool may prevent seven out of 10 drownings to children under five years of age.
  • Research has not been able to establish that pool alarms, door alarms or pool covers prevent drowning.

Fencing for in-ground and above-ground pools

  • Effective pool fencing is designed so that children cannot climb over, under or through it.
  • Most backyard pool fences only go around three sides of the pool. This gives children ready access to the pool, usually from the house. 
  • A safe pool fence is at least 1.2 metres (four feet) high and surrounds all sides of the pool, separating it from the house. An exterior house wall should not function as part of a pool barrier if this wall has doors or windows (that open) which allow access to the pool.
  • The fence should be well maintained and checked regularly to ensure there are no access gaps.
  • It is important to establish a minimum clearance of 1.2 metres (four feet) around the exterior of the fence which is devoid of objects that a child might use to climb. This includes such items as barbeques, toys and even the pool filtration system.
  • A few municipalities across Canada have bylaws that require backyard pools to be completely fenced. Even where these bylaws do not exist, we strongly recommend four-sided fencing to protect children from preventable drowning.
  • The pamphlet on Safer Pool Fencing provides greater details.

Pool gates

  • Gates as high as the pool fencing (1.2 metres) will prevent unrestricted access but are only effective when closed properly. They should never be propped open.
  • The self-closing, self-latching mechanism can be designed or placed in such a way as to prevent children from opening it easily.
  • In order to provide an effective barrier, both the fencing and the gate should not have decorative elements that allow for a climbing foothold.
  • The pamphlet on Safer Pool Fencing provides greater details.

Small, inflatable (or hard-sided) pools, hot tubs and spas

  • If a pool can be emptied easily, it should be drained after each use (or at the end of the day). It is vital that children be actively supervised since small pools pose a drowning threat.
  • Whenever a pool is large enough that it will not be drained daily, it should be fenced properly.
  • Hot tubs and spas should be treated like above-ground pools and fenced accordingly.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing and maintaining your hot tub or portable pool. This includes making sure the water is properly filtered and treated to keep it clean.

Pool alarms and covers

  • Pool alarms, door alarms, pool covers and door locks are not an adequate substitute for a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. There is no current research suggesting that these devices will prevent drowning.
  • A pool alarm is designed to sound an alarm when it detects an object breaking the surface of the pool water, but with repeated false alarms (from weather or objects falling into the pool), many owners deactivate the alarm or simply ignore it.
  • Wrist alarms designed for children are reliant on too many factors to be effective and are not a substitute for active supervision and four-sided fencing. Not only must adults remember to put the wrist alarms on the child and ensure that the batteries are operational, it is likely that the alarm would only be worn during planned pool time. Children have drowned when their parents had no idea they were even near the pool and in this instance, a child would not be wearing the wrist alarm.
  • Soft pool covers can increase the risk of drowning if a child steps onto the cover, slips underneath it and becomes trapped. Children have also drowned in water that has collected on top of pool covers.
  • Hard pool covers may hold the weight of a child; however, there is no research to indicate they are as effective as proper pool fencing and it may be unrealistic to expect adults to open and shut the cover numerous times throughout daily use.
  • None of these devices can be relied upon to protect children from drowning.

Recommended safety equipment

Local governments may provide guidance on necessary pool equipment. However, the following are considered essential items:

  • A first aid kit
  • A phone for emergencies
  • A reaching pole
  • A ring buoy attached to a rope

Additional information