Drowning data and facts

Learn about drownings among children, adolescents, and adults

Drowning is swift and silent. It takes only takes minutes to drown and even the most experienced swimmer is susceptible to drowning. But drowning is preventable and you can prepare yourself to help in case of an emergency by learning CPR.

Childhood drowning

In 2020, drowning was the leading cause of unintentional injury death among Massachusetts children ages 1-14, whereas it was the 2nd leading cause of unintentional injury death nationally. In addition, children ages 1-4 had the highest rates of drownings in Massachusetts among children ages 17 and younger. While water safety is important for everyone, it’s especially important for young children and teens as they can be curious and eager to explore their surroundings, may not know how to swim, or may not understand the dangers and hidden hazards around water.

Parents and caregivers can take life-saving steps to help keep their children safe and prevent drownings. Enrolling children in swim lessons is one of the best ways to reduce their risk for drowning and learn water safety skills. For children who may not know how to swim or are weaker swimmers, parents should make sure their child wears a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Furthermore, even if their child is a strong swimmer, it’s important to provide close supervision and teach children to use the buddy system while swimming.

Learn about water safety for children at our water safety for all ages page.

Adolescent and adult drowning

In 2020, 51 unintentional drowning deaths occurred in Massachusetts and 113 non-fatal near-drowning cases required treatment at an acute care hospital. About 10% of all unintentional fatal drownings in Massachusetts involved individuals ages 15-24 years. The 45-54 age group compromised the greater proportion of the unintentional drowning deaths at 20%, followed by the 55-64 (18%), 35-44 (12%), and 75-84 (12%) age groups. For adolescents and adults, most drownings occurred in natural bodies of water such as ocean, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Alcohol was involved in 18% of the drowning deaths.

There are several precautions adolescents and adults can take to keep themselves safe while swimming and prevent drowning. When swimming around natural bodies of water, it’s important to look for hazards including steep drop-offs, strong currents, and poor visibility in the water. If you do not know how to swim or are a weaker swimmer, make sure to swim with a buddy and wear a U.S. Coast Guide-approved life jacket. Moreover, staying alert is key to staying safe— avoid alcohol, drugs, and medications while swimming as it can impair your judgment, balance, and coordination.

Learn more water safety tips for adolescents and adults at our water safety for all ages page.

Additional resources