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What factors influence drowning risk?

  • Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water.
  • Lack of Swimming Ability: Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.
  • Lack of Barriers: Barriers, such as pool fencing, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. A four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing.
  • Location: People of different ages drown in different locations. For example, most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools. The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans, increases with age. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older (57% and 57% respectively) occurred in natural water settings.
  • Failure to Wear Life Jackets: Most (72%) boating deaths are caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.
  • Alcohol Use: Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency department visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.
  • Seizure Disorders: For persons with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk

What has research found?

  • Swimming skills help. Taking part in in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years. However, many people don’t have basic swimming skills. A CDC study about self-reported swimming ability found that:
    • Younger adults reported greater swimming ability than older adults.
    • Self-reported ability increased with level of education.
    • Among racial groups, African Americans reported the most limited swimming ability.
  • Men of all ages, races, and educational levels consistently reported greater swimming ability than women.
  • Seconds count—learn CPR. CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims. The more quickly CPR is started, the better the chance of improved outcomes.
  • Life jackets can reduce risk. Potentially, half of all boating deaths might be prevented with the use of life jackets.