The truth is that children and swimming pools can be a deadly mix. Anyone with a swimming pool — or whose neighbors or parents/family have a swimming pool — should be uber-vigilant about their kids near pools. Plain and simple.
The numbers are chilling.
Every year, approximately 800 children die from drowning. On average, more than 350 children fatally drown in a swimming pool or spa in a year… of those, nearly 80 percent are children younger than five.
When polled, half of all parents think they are able to effectively supervise their children around the water by listening for calls for help. While drowning is often portrayed as a loud, dramatic, eye-catching event (as in movies and such), in real-life, drowning is usually completely silent.
Sadly, many of us know of someone (or a friend of a friend) who has lost a child this way. Others of us have had close calls ourselves. One friend told me she found her toddler sitting on the edge of her parent’s pool in Florida over Thanksgiving after someone accidentally left the sliding glass door open to let the dog out. This gives me nightmares.
Nobody plans on these things happening, and yet they do.
There are many childproofing things I roll my eyes at; this is not one of them.
Layers of Protection
There is no way to babyproof a pool 100%.
Let me repeat… EVEN IF YOUR CHILD CAN SWIM: there is no such thing as a babyproof pool.
The best way to TRY to safeguard your pool is to have multiple layers of protection. To start, it’s a good idea to get on swim lessons as early as you can. Your other elements should include things like fences and gates, as well as optional systems like alarms or safety nets (keep reading to see our suggestions regarding the latter…).
*The most significant factor in childhood drownings, though, is ADULT SUPERVISION. So this is one arena in which over-the-top diligence is 100% warranted.
Parents who have a pool or hot tub have a special responsibility to babyproof them — not only for their own kids, but also for friends and neighbors.
If you have a pool, make sure to childproof the entire area leading to it, including the exterior doors and windows leading to the pool. (See here for door locks, and opt for some of the heavier-duty hardware.)
Though there is no federal pool fence law currently in place within the US, several states, including Florida, Maine, and Arizona, have created their own individual pool fence laws. Most municipalities now require this — even for pool owners who don’t have children. And if you own a home with a pool, your homeowner’s policy will likely require it as well.
Install a four-sided fence that’s at least 4-5 feet tall, with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools and spas; never prop the gate to the pool area open. In fact, the use of a gate alarm can provide additional peace of mind and security.
For fencing off your pool, please consult a local pool safety professional. You can also check these pool fence providers’ sites for dealers in your area:
There are a couple of other products on the market to help keep kids safe in and around your pool (none of which take the place of the above-mentioned fence, by the way):
The first is a Pool Net, like this one from Katchakid (see below).
This UV and winter-safe net stretches over the entire pool and anchors to mounted fasteners on the pool’s sides. Its purpose is to protect children from jumping into and drowning in the open water.
Katchakid pool nets are professionally installed by rigorously trained and certified technicians, and the company proclaims that “no child has ever drowned in a pool protected by a correctly installed Katchakid.”
Parents who have these say they’re easy enough to use and WELL worth any hassle. You can schedule a free consultation and request a custom quote from them here.
Alarms & Wearable Devices
A backup measure for keeping your kids safe near pools is through an in-pool alarm or wearable device. Wearables — devices intended to alarm if your child is submerged — and floating alarms are especially great for visiting a friend or while on vacation (aka they are more portable). In-ground alarms may be better for home pools, but honestly every category here has its drawbacks…
Namely, these technologies are FAR from perfect. Most of them (like many movement monitors) are finicky and prone to false alarms — there are as many complaints about them as there are rave reviews… So don’t put too much stock in them. But, if one would make you feel better, go for it. Here are our favorite swim-safety devices and pool alarms for kids (and pets!):
*Note: The Safety Turtle 2.0 is currently out of stock as Safety Turtle has halted production of their products. We are keeping this review up for now in the event you can find one second-hand.
We used this at a rental house in Napa that had a pool (I literally couldn’t sleep at night, I was so worried…). It comes with a “turtle” wristband for your child, a base alarm for the house (which can also be plugged in outside — but note that the base is not weatherproof), and a USB cord/wall adapter.
Even when it’s plugged in inside, it’s loud enough that you’ll hear it at the pool (it’s loud!).
Safety Turtle is very sensitive, and it alerts you as soon as your child’s wrist gets wet. It would go off during handwashing, which was fairly annoying — but whatevs. It’s also impossible for kids to take off themselves, as it requires a custom key to remove the band (this is something users both love and despise…). To recap, your kid cannot remove it himself.
If you have more than one child (or your kiddo is having friends over to swim), one base alarm can support unlimited Turtle wristbands — and even collar attachments for pets (I could tell you a sad story about a pug….😱).
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicated that subsurface pool alarms may perform better as a category, because they’re more consistent and less prone to false alarms. (However, this assessment was ~20 years ago…) Still, whereas the Turtle System (above) triggers an alarm when the wristband detects water, surface alarms go off when they detect movement at the water’s surface (which may also be the result of wind, rain, falling leaves, frogs, etc.).
A subsurface system will sound the alarm if it detects any movement under the water, which is why it tends to be a little more reliable/stable.
It goes without saying that these devices are back-up safety measures. No device can ever take the place of a responsible and vigilant caregiver!
We haven’t had the chance to test these out in person, and again, the technology is finicky, but one option that frequently comes up is the PGRM-2 In-ground Pool Alarm by PoolGuard ($255). It has an underwater sensor that sets off an alarm… note that it only works for children/pets that weight at least 18 pounds.
*Suitable for pools up to 20×40 or 800 sq. feet.
This alarm floats in your pool on a tether string and sounds an alarm if movement is detected. Users like that this device has adjustable sensitivity settings (though the company advises using it at the most highly sensitive setting), and can be travel-friendly for vacations and rentals and such.
Note: if your pool is larger than 20×40 feet, the company advises placing two devices in the pool for full coverage (see diagrams below).
Another in-pool floating alarm that’s (relatively) well-liked is the LifeBuoy Pool Alarm (~$295) — it’s bluetooth enabled, so you can sync it with an app on your phone, and also comes with an option for “swim mode” (so you can swim without the thing going off) that automatically reverts to alarm mode after ten minutes of inactivity.
Similar to the Pool Patrol, the manufacturer recommends using more than one LifeBuoy if your pool is larger than 20×40 feet.
Additional Tips to Prevent Drowning:
- Never take your eyes off your kids when you’re near a body of water (yes, including the little inflatable baby pool in the backyard!), even if they know how to swim independently. Swim Safely suggests designating an adult “Water Watcher” to supervise children at all times around the water. We’ve had moments on vacation where there was confusion over who was “on duty” watching the kids in the water — be sure you are perfectly clear about whose turn it is!
- All parents and caregivers should learn CPR.
- While useful, “floaties” do not take the place of adult supervision; in fact, they can provide a false sense of security for kiddos and parents, and do not prevent drowning accidents.
- When you’re done swimming for the day, don’t leave toys in the pool; kids may jump in the pool when you’re not looking to play with them.
- Make sure everyone in the family knows how to swim; according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88%.”
- Don’t swim in a pool with broken or missing drain covers — these can trap swimmers underwater; teach children to stay away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings to avoid entrapments.
- Always drain inflatable baby pools after each use.
- If you have a pool and don’t know where your child is … check the pool FIRST.
I hope this wasn’t too scary! Between this and car seats, I swear… #joykill!! I promise if you take the necessary precautions to keep your kids safe around water, you will sleep better at night.
- Traveling soon? There are other baby-proofing considerations for travel – so we made a guide for you!
Enjoy the summer!
Other Pool Safety Resources:
- AAP Swim Safely Tips
- Safe Kids Worldwide
- University of Michigan — Water & Pool Safety