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Rural Health Information Hub

Supervision to Prevent Drowning

Swimming in unsupervised areas is another cause of drowning incidents. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a lapse in adult supervision is the main cause of drowning fatalities, even when other safety measures are in place. Lapses in adult supervision can include inattention by a lifeguard, caregiver, or other adult. Adults can get distracted by household duties, talking and socializing, or reading a book. It is important for adults to maintain constant supervision of children not only in open water and pools, but spas and bathtubs as well.

Rural programs should extend pool and water safety courses and awareness campaigns to all family members and caregivers. Rural programs can utilize these courses and campaigns to emphasize the importance of adequate supervision. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describes adequate supervision as close, constant, and attentive.

Adults supervising children in water should:

  • Have the knowledge and skills to safely perform a water rescue, initiate CPR, and call for help
  • Be close enough to the child so he or she can pull the child out of the water if there is an emergency
  • Be aware that rescue and resuscitation must occur within minutes to reduce the risk of injury or death

Rural programs can improve supervision at pools and other water settings by establishing water watcher programs and policies. A water watcher is a responsible adult, who is designated by using a water watcher card, as the adult with supervision duty. It is recommended that each water watcher shift last about 15 minutes without distractions such as phones, magazines, books, and alcohol. After 15 minutes, the water watcher's shift is complete and the water watcher card should be handed off to the next supervising adult.

American Red Cross guidance for selecting an appropriate water watcher includes:

  • “Is at least 16 years of age (adults preferred)
  • Has the skills, knowledge, and the ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress or can immediately alert someone nearby who does or can
  • Knows CPR or can immediately alert someone nearby who does
  • Has a working phone to call for emergency services
  • Has a floatation device or reaching object that can be used in a rescue
  • Is alert and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or distracted by texting, telephone, or talking to others or reading”

In addition to water watcher programs, rural programs can also encourage families with pools to instruct neighbors, friends, and caregivers about the presence of pools in their yard by implementing community guidelines.

Implementation Considerations

To enhance supervision in and around open water and pools, rural programs should consider setting up water watcher booths with signs, water watcher tags, sign-up sheets, drowning prevention pamphlets, and other program materials at community pools, pool shops, boating ramps, and other areas of the community. These booths can help expand knowledge of water watcher programs and the importance of supervision in and around open waters and pools.

Resources to Learn More

Designate A Water Watcher, Supervision Could Save A Life – Water Safety USA National Message
Provides a list of attributes to consider when selecting a water watcher and the importance of advocating supervision around water.
Organization(s): National Drowning Prevention Alliance