- Children: Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2014, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, one-third died from drowning.1,2 Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools.2 Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies (birth defects).1 Among those 1-14, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.1
What factors influence drowning risk?
The main factors that affect drowning risk are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use, and seizure disorders.
- Lack of Swimming Ability: Many adults and children report that they can’t swim.7,8 Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.9,10
- Lack of Barriers: Barriers, such as pool fencing, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness.11 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.12
- Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water (such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets), and even in the presence of lifeguards.13,14
- Location: People of different ages drown in different locations. For example, most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools.2 The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans, increases with age.2 More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older (57% and 57% respectively) occurred in natural water settings.2
- Failure to Wear Life Jackets: In 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,604 boating incidents; 3,153 boaters were reported injured, and 672 died. Most (72%) boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.15,16
- Alcohol Use: Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of ED visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.2,15,17 Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.17
- 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.18