Child and Adult Drowning

Drowning is a leading cause of death among children. Most child drownings involve a brief lapse in supervision — for example, taking one’s eyes off of a child to text or talk on a cell phone. The general public assumes that they will hear a drowning person splashing or calling for help, and that they will see a drowning person waving their arms and splashing. In reality, drowning is swift and silent. There is often no struggle or splashing, no cry for help. Many child drownings occur in the presence of other children or adults.

Young children can drown in just a few inches of water. Children under 1 year old most commonly drown in buckets, toilets, wading pools and bathtubs. Children ages 1-4 years most often drown in backyard swimming pools, and adolescents most commonly drown in natural bodies of water.

Alcohol is involved in 25-50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat. Many adolescent and adults who drown did not know how to swim.

Massachusetts Statistics

In 2011, there were 40 unintentional drowning deaths among Massachusetts residents and an additional 148 nonfatal near-drowning cases among Massachusetts residents that required treatment at a Massachusetts acute care hospital.

Drowning was the leading cause of unintentional injury death among Massachusetts children 0-14 years in 2011 (N=9).

Prevention Tips

Water Safety Tips

  • Do not swim alone, even if you are a very good swimmer.
  • Do not swim during a storm or when there is lightning.
  • Do not dive or jump into water that is not at least 12 feet deep.
  • Teach your child how to swim.
  • Even if your child knows how to swim, always watch children closely when they are in or near water. This means ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans, and pools. It also means spas, toilets, and bathtubs.
  • Teach your child to never run, push, or jump on others in or around water.
  • Do not let your child swim in an area with strong moving currents in the water.
  • If you have a pool, there should be a 4-foot fence around it.
  • Be ready for an emergency by learning CPR. Always keep a telephone and emergency numbers with you.

Boating Safety

  • Learn swimming and boating skills.
  • Wear a comfortable and properly fitted life jacket.
  • Watch the weather to prepare for storms. Because water conducts electricity, get off the boat and onto land if you see or hear a storm.
  • Tell a family member or friend your boating trip plan in case of emergency. Tell them who is going on the boat, where you are going, and how long you will be gone.
  • Never operate a boat while drinking alcohol or soon afterward.

Related Links

For More Information

To learn more about water safety, please contact us.

This information is provided by the Injury Prevention and Control Program within the Department of Public Health.