In the U.S., drowning is the second-leading cause of injury death for children, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.  Most drownings occur in lakes and rivers. Children ages 1-4 and 15-19 are at highest risk. Non-fatal drownings are nearly five times higher in number, and can cause long-term disabilities including brain damage, memory problems, learning disabilities or permanent loss of basic functioning.

Why we should be talking about this now

While the weather is warming up, lakes, rivers and streams in the many parts of the country are still extremely cold, and snowpack melt feeds rivers that are running deep, cold and swift.  Sadly, it is at this time of year that drowning deaths often occur as people venture into these waters without appropriate lifesaving gear and lifeguard protection. Preparation, planning and extreme caution in activities around open water are needed to prevent drowning. 


The water safety guidelines below were created by an international drowning prevention task force co-chaired by Linda Quan, MD, emergency physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.These guidelines emphasize that swimming and water safety survival skills are for everyone and provide strategies for those who are responsible for children or other persons while recreating in open water:

Keep Yourself Safe

  • Learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  • Always swim with others.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.
  • Never go in the water after drinking alcohol.
  • Know how and when to use a life jacket.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Know the water and weather conditions before getting in the water.
  • Always enter shallow and unknown water feet first.

Keep Others Safe

  • Help and encourage others, especially children, to learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Set water safety rules.
  • Always provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising in or near water.
  • Know how and when to use life jackets, especially with children and weak swimmers.
  • Learn first aid and CPR.
  • Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.



Washington state

  • In 2004, there were 97 unintentional drownings deaths in Washington.
  • In Washington state, over 70 percent of drowning deaths among children occur in open water settings, such as lakes, ponds, rivers and ocean and males in the 15-24 year age group are at the highest risk of drowning.
  • Drowning deaths are more likely in racial and ethnic minorities.

Drowning prevention experts available for media interviews

  • Linda Quan, MD, emergency  physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dr. Quan is co-chair of an international task force on drowning prevention and has served on many committees for the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMS-C), CDC Injury Prevention, and recently for the American Red Cross. She has spent a large part of her career on research of drowning, drowning prevention, and pediatric resuscitation for which she has received many biomedical grants.
  • Elizabeth Bennett, MPH, MCHES, director of guest services and advocacy at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ms. Bennett is co-chair of an international task force on drowning prevention.  She is also a clinical instructor in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. She has been involved in the development of a number of injury prevention initiatives including the Stay on Top of It drowning prevention campaign, Washington State Drowning Prevention Project, Seattle King County Booster Seat campaign and the Safe Gun Storage campaign.

Quote from drowning prevention expert

“Water safety must be addressed with all families. Open water is a high risk area for drowning and we must remain vigilant in providing education and creating awareness of this ongoing issue,” says Linda Quan, MD, international drowning prevention task force co-chair and emergency medicine physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Areas of the country with rivers, beaches or lakes are especially vulnerable, but children can drown in just a few inches of water so everyone needs this information.”

Photo opportunities at related events

April Pools Day is on Saturday, April 21. Twenty-two pools in King County and across the state will hold free events where children and families can learn important water safety skills, while enjoying free swim time and games. During April Pools Day, families will have the opportunity to learn drowning prevention strategies, proper lifejacket fitting and use, basic self-help skills, and rescue techniques in a water emergency. Local events will be held in Bellevue, Covington, Enumclaw, Everett, Federal Way (4/22), Seattle and Tukwila. For a schedule of events, please call Amy Collins at 425-670-5521 or visit Find coupons for a discount on a variety of lifejackets at Big 5 Sporting Goods at


  • For a compilation of drowning prevention reports and data, go to:
  • To learn more about common myths and facts about water safety, visit:
  • For the CDC’s fact sheet on unintentional drowning and links to national statistics, go to:
  • For Washington state drowning statistics, go to:
  • For open water guidelines, go to:
  • Dr. Linda Quan offers tips on how to have fun on the water in this video:

If you’d like to arrange an interview with a drowning prevention expert at Seattle Children’s, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or