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Information on drowning

Learn about drownings among children, adolescents, and adults

In 2017, 42 unintentional drowning deaths occurred in Massachusetts and 147 nonfatal near-drowning cases required treatment at an acute care hospital. In addition, drowning was the 3rd cause of unintentional injury death among Massachusetts children 0-14 years compared to the 6th highest cause of unintentional injury death nationally.

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

Nationally, children ages 0-4 have the highest drowning rates, with most 1-4 drownings occurring in swimming pools. For children under 1 year at the national level, most drownings were attributed to bathtubs. In 2017, Massachusetts children ages 1-14 experienced 50% of all under-18 year unintentional drownings deaths.

Many people assume that if someone is drowning, they will be splashing or calling for help, or waving their arms.  In reality, drowning is swift and silent— there is often no struggle, splashing, or cry for help.

While swimming and playing in the water can be a fun activity for infants and toddlers, it’s important to keep them safe at all times. Parents play a key role in keeping children safe around water and protecting them from drowning.

  • Always supervise children in and around water. Young children can drown in even a few inches of water, so it’s important for an adult to be within arm’s reach.
  • Empty bathtubs, buckets, and wading pools immediately after use, and keep toilet lids closed. Never leave children unattended by these areas.
  • Make sure children wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water (i.e., lakes, oceans) and swimming pools.
  • Install a four-sided pool fence that completely separates the house and play area of the yard from the pool area.
  • Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills.

Learn more water safety tips for children here.

Adolescent and adult drowning

For adolescents and adults, most drownings occur in natural bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. In Massachusetts, about 10% of all unintentional fatal drownings involved individuals ages 15-19 years in 2017. Individuals ages 20-24 years experienced 7% of the state’s unintentional drowning deaths. The 25-34 age group compromised the greater proportion of the unintentional drowning deaths at 19%, followed by the 45-54 (14%) and 55-64 (14%) age groups.

Nationally, in 2017 the percent of drownings among individuals ages 15-19 was half the proportion of Massachusetts’s (5.7%). Percentages of unintentional drowning deaths nationally were comparable for ages 20-24 (7%), 25-34 (13%), ages 45-54 (12%) and the 55-64 age group (14%).

Alcohol was involved in 10% of adolescent and adult deaths in Massachusetts in 2017. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are worsened by sun exposure and heat. Many adolescent and adults who drown did not know how to swim.

Learn more water safety tips for adolescents and adults here.

Additional resources

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