Drowning is the second highest cause of preventable death among children under 10, and the primary cause of preventable death in children between the ages of 1 to 4. Equally devastating is the fact that in 75% of the cases, a lack of or inactive supervision by an adult was a factor.

This is not an easy topic, but it is one that needs your attention, especially if you have children in your care. Understanding that you have an active role in lifeguarding your children when you are on or near water can save a young life.

Swimming skills alone aren’t always enough to save a life– It’s swimming skills combined with safety knowledge and skills that saves lives. – Canadian Red Cross

Never forget: Lifeguarding is your job

Here in water rich North America, we are spoiled with choice when it comes to places to swim. But, so many of these spots don’t have a lifeguard. Most people in Canada and the US swim in unsupervised water, such as at cottages, lakes, rivers, swim holes, beaches, and private pools.

Most water-related fatalities occur during the summer months. The Canadian Red Cross report from 2016 showed that 52% of children aged 1- 4 year olds who drowned fell into backyard pools, 29% fell into lakes or ponds, and 8% fell into rivers. 71% were males, and 29% were females.As parents and caregivers, the best thing you can do to protect your kids from drowning is to actively and consistently supervise them when they are in or near the water. Even at supervised beaches, if you’ve got kids, lifeguarding is your job.

Around water, you should always know the answer to the question “who’s watching the kids.”

Lifeguarding your children: vital tips

  • Confirm who’s on deck: Parents and caregivers need to ensure that someone is in charge of watching the kids while they are in or near the water. This person is the lifeguard on duty. It’s their job and they have to take it seriously. Looking up once and awhile from your reading or cell phone does not count. You need to be able to spot problems immediately and react quickly because drowning can happen in as little as 10 seconds. Even if there is formal supervision on site, such as a lifeguard, as the caregiver you are always the first line of defense.
  • Supervise with your eyes, not your ears: Drowning is silent in most cases. You can only help prevent drowning by watching, not by listening.
  • If you kid is with a buddy, watch them like hawks: Many parents and caregivers relax their supervision if children are playing or swimming with a buddy. But children ages 5-14 are 50% more likely to drown if they are with a buddy than when they are alone. Don’t take your eyes off them.
  • Photo by Matthias Buehler


  • Lifeguard your kids in shallow water : 40% of drownings happen in shallow water. And in a shocking 90% of cases, the children who drowned in shallow water were not being supervised. Always stay within arm’s’ reach when your kids are in or near shallow water.

  • Lifejackets, lifejackets, lifejackets: Most children who drowned while boating were not wearing a lifejacket. And 97% of children who drown are not strong swimmers. It takes a long time to become a strong swimmer, and even longer to be secure and comfortable swimming in open water where waves, currents, temperature, among other things, are forces to contend with. Swimming takes endurance, knowledge, muscles, and composure. Children should be accompanied by an adult and wear a personal flotation device if they are not strong swimmers. Children should always wear lifejackets while boating and paddling.
  • Photo by adoephoto

  • Look at your children’s faces: Panic starts in the eyes. If something is not right, your only clue that there is trouble might be the look on your child’s face. Remember that drowning is quiet and happens fast.
  • Hardwire asking for permission and safe entry: Teach your children that they should never go near the water without verbal confirmation from an adult that “yes, it’s okay to go in and yes, someone is watching you.” Children should know who is in charge of lifeguarding them.
  • Turn that pool upside down: Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are most like to drown in shallow water, such as an inflatable pool or bathtub. Never leave water in baths and children’s pools. Keep them empty and upside down.
  • Don’t be a one trick pony: Children are conniving. Keeping kids away from unsafe water, like an unsupervised backyard pool or pond, takes planning. Never rely on a single measure to prevent young children from getting into a pool or other water body. In order to restrict access you need to apply multiple barriers and strategies.
  • Know your water body: Does your beach have a rip current? Can the lake at the end of your dock drop significantly in temperature overnight? Does the water get deep unexpectedly at your favourite swimming hole? You can help protect your children from drowning by knowing all you can about the water where you are swimming. If your knowledge is limited, find out what to watch for.
  • Every child should learn to swim

    Children love to swim. In Canada swimming is, by leaps and bounds, the favourite and most popular sport among children. Both you and your children should know how to swim. Swimming lessons are so important that in many communities they are offered for free, or at minimum cost. Swimming lessons are not just about learning to swim. Swimming lessons also teach children and parents the skills and knowledge they need to be safe around water.

    Photo by Judy

    In Canada the Canadian Red Cross and the Lifeguarding Society have many courses available as well as great resources for parents surrounding water safety.


    You can access the 2016 Canadian Red Cross report here.

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