Water Safety Statistics

Water Safety Statistics

Many national and international organizations have studied varied aspects of drowning, and have gathered data on victim demographics, frequency of occurrence, and environmental factors.  Following are links to these organizations, as well as some highlights of their research findings.  We hope you find this information helpful.  If you have questions or additional facts that you believe should be added to this list, please contact us.

American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Among children ages 1 to 4 years, most drowning occurs in residential swimming pools.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming classes as the primary means of drowning prevention for children younger than age 4.
  • In 2010, the AAP approved toddler swim lessons.  The group had feared that swim lessons gave parents a false sense of security, and reminds parents to be vigilant watchers of children near water.

American Red Cross

  • Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14.
  • In a survey of more than 1,000 adults, nearly half said they have had a drowning scare in their lifetime.  Two-thirds say the event occurred between the ages of 5 and 15.
  • One in four people know someone who drowned.
  • More than half of people who report swimming ability say they learned between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.  Of those, only 17% describe their skills as “excellent”, compared with 43% of people who learned to swim before age 5.   Only 2% of people who learned to swim after age 10 say their skills are excellent.
  • In a March 2009 survey of families with young children, almost 90% planned to be in the water that summer, and nearly half of them had plans to swim where there was no lifeguard.
  • One-third of adults do not realize that staying within arms’ reach is safer than putting floaties on a child.

Aquatics International

  • In a 2007 study of 182 court cases over the drowning deaths of minor children, researchers found that one-third of incidents occurred at pool parties.   St. Leo University, Florida
  • In a 5-year study from 2003 to 2008, two-thirds of pool deaths occurred during planned group swim activities, typically pool parties.   The Redwoods Group, North Carolina (The Redwoods Group is the largest insurer of YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Each year, about 4,000 people die from drowning in the United States.  Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death among all ages.
  • Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 1 to 14, with more than 1,500 children killed in water accidents each year.
  • More than one in four fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger.  For every child who dies from drowning, another four receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries.
  • In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 3,582 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging 10 deaths per day.
  • In 2005, drowning claimed 500 youth lives.  Of all children 1 to 4 years old who died that year, almost 30% died from drowning.
  • The place where drowning is likely to occur changes with age.  About 60% of deaths among children occur in swimming pools.  Children ages 1 to 4 years most often drown in home pools.
  • Drowning usually happens quickly and silently—many children who drown in home pools were out of sight for less than 5 minutes and in the care of one or both parents at the time.
  • Many assume that drowning persons are easy to identify or exhibit obvious signs of distress.  Instead, people tend to drown quietly and quickly.  Children and adults are rarely able to call out or wave their arms when they are in distress in the water, and can submerge in 20 to 60 seconds.
  • Nonfatal drownings can cause brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e., permanent vegetative state).
  • Irreversible brain damage can occur within four to six minutes of submersion.

Consumer Product Safety Commission

  • Three hundred children under age 5 drown in pool and spas each year.  Approximately 200 of these are children ages 1 to 2 years old.  An additional 3,000 children visit emergency rooms due to water-related injuries.

Home Pool Statistics

  • Three-quarters of children involved in pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.  Boys between 1 and 3 years old were the most likely victims of fatal drownings or near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.
  • Eighty percent of child deaths and more than 60% of injuries occur at a residence.  Home pools are the most common drowning site for children under age 5, with 65% of the accidents in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% in pools owned by relatives or friends.  Less than 2% are a result of children trespassing on property where they don’t live or belong.
  • More than 75% of the victims had been out of sight for five minutes or less, and were being supervised by one or both parents at the time.  Almost half of the incidents are attributed to an adult losing contact or knowledge of the whereabouts of the child, and the child accessing the pool during this time period.
  • Most children who drown in home pools enter the water without their parent’s or caregiver’s knowledge.  Nearly 70% of children who drowned in home pools were not expected to be in or around the pool, but were found in the water.
  • Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home before the pool accident occurred.  About a quarter of the victims were last seen on the porch or patio or in the yard.  Sixteen percent resulted from barrier compromise or circumvention, and 11% of incidents occurred after the victim was last seen in or near the pool.
  • In-ground pools account for the largest percentage (49%) of home pool accident sites, followed by above-ground and portable pools.

Medical Treatment Statistics

  • There are, on average, 3,000 pool- and spa-related ER-treated submersion injuries each year and about 300 pool- and spa-related fatalities per year for children under 5.
  • Approximately 62% of estimated injuries and 70% of the reported fatalities for children under 5 involve children ages 1 and 2.
  • For children under age 5, more than half of the victims treated for pool and spa submersion injuries were admitted to the hospital or treated and transferred to another hospital.
  • Residential pools accounted for 64% of ER-treated submersion injuries, compared with 13% of those that occurred at public pools.

National Center for Health Statistics

  • Each year, about 4,000 people die from drowning in the United States.  Drowning was a leading cause of unintentional injury death among all ages in 1998, and the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among children ages 1to14.  About 60% of drowning deaths among children occur in swimming pools.
  • The annual incidence of drowning in the United States has declined from about 6,300 persons in 1981 to about 4,000 persons in 1998.  Nevertheless, despite the advances in rescue techniques and the decline in drowning rates in the United States, drowning remains a leading cause of unintentional injury death, especially among children and youth.

National Safety Council

  • Children age 4 and under have a higher rate of death by drowning than any other age group. Approximately 300 in this age group drown in home swimming pools every year.  In 2002, nearly 2,700 children age 14 and younger were treated in hospital emergency rooms for drowning-related incidents.
  • Experts have described the costs of unintentional death through two measures.  Comprehensive costs include the economic loss, as well as the value of lost quality of life associated with the death or injury.  In 1997, the National Safety Council placed the economic value of each unintentional injury death at $790,000 and the comprehensive cost at $2,790,000.

Safe Kids Coalition

Risk Factors

  • Two-thirds of parents do not know that drowning is one of the top two causes of accidental death to children.
  • More than half of parents say they do not worry very much or at all about their child drowning.
  • Home swimming pools are the most common site for a drowning to occur for a child between the ages of 1 and 4 years.
  • Approximately 75% of pool submersion deaths and 60% of pool submersion injuries occur at a home.
  • Nearly a quarter of drowning deaths in children under age 5 occur at the home of a family member, friend, or neighbor.
  • Children under age 5 have the highest drowning death rate (twice that of other age groups) and account for 80% of home drownings.
  • According to a national study of drowning-related incidents involving children, a parent or caregiver claimed to be supervising the child in nearly 9 out of 10 child drowning-related deaths.
  • Parents admit to participating in distracting activities while supervising children near a swimming pool.  Only 6% of parents report that they do nothing else while supervising their swimming child.
  • In the summer, between May and August, drowning deaths among children increase 89% over the rest of the year.
  • Although the majority of parents agree that children should learn to swim, almost 40% of parents of children over age 5 report that their children have never taken swimming lessons.

Near-Drowning Costs

  • A child will lose consciousness after two minutes of submersion, with irreversible brain damage occurring within four to six minutes.
  • Medical costs for a near-drowning victim can range from $75,000 for initial treatment to $180,000 a year for long-term care.  The total cost of a single near-drowning that results in brain injury can be more than $4.5 million.
  • The total annual lifetime cost of drownings among children ages 14 and under is approximately $6.8 billion, with children ages 4 and under accounting for $3.4 billion.
  • In 2000, total drowning injuries cost the nation over $16 billion.

USA Swimming Foundation

  • Nine people drown each day in the United States.
  • In ethnically-diverse communities, the youth drowning rate is two to three times higher than the national average.
  • Six out of ten African American and Hispanic/Latino children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts.
  • Children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at risk of drowning.
  • While about one third of Caucasian children from non-swimming families go on to learn to swim, less than 10% of children in non-swimming African American families do.

United States Lifesaving Association

  • Over a 10-year period, USLA recorded fewer than 100 drownings at their sites with more than 75% occurring during unguarded hours.  These data indicate that the vast majority of drownings each year occur at unguarded locations.  The chance of drowning at a beach protected by lifeguards trained under USLA standards is less than one in 18 million per year.
  • U.S. lifeguards rescue more than an estimated 100,000 persons from drowning annually.  Data show a rescue-to-drowning ratio in the 1960s of one drowning for every 2,004 rescues.  In the 1990s, the ratio improved to one drowning for every 4,832 rescues.
  • For every rescue, an effective lifeguard makes many more preventive actions.  Trained, professional lifeguards have had a positive effect on drowning prevention in the United States.
  • Of the total drowning deaths per year, those that occur under lifeguard supervision account for less than 1%.

YMCA Society of North America

  • Many people assume that drowning persons are easy to identify because they will exhibit obvious signs of distress in the water, such as yelling or waving their arms.  This behavior is not common.
  • People tend to drown in more quiet, less attention-getting ways.  Drowning persons usually struggle to keep their mouth above the surface of the water.  Struggling to stay afloat and possibly suffocating, they are rarely able to call out or wave their arms.
  • Observational studies have revealed that non-swimming adults who find themselves in water over their heads are generally able to struggle on the surface of the water for about 60 seconds, while infants and very small children can submerge in as little as 20 seconds.
  • These characteristics of drowning—the inability of a person to call or wave for help and the short time period before submerging—emphasize the need for lifeguards as a source for continuous surveillance and immediate action.