FAQs

kids sitting on a pool ledge at a swim class

Learn answers to Frequently Asked Questions around water and swimming safety, for all ages.

How common are drownings?

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4, and the second leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-14, according to the CDC. Each year in the U.S., an estimated 1,000 children drown, 70% of them between the months of May and August. An additional 7,000 children end up in the emergency room annually because of a drowning scare.

Where do most childhood drownings happen?

Most childhood drownings occur in home pools. Children ages 1-4 most often drown in residential pools, hot tubs, and spas. Conversely, older children–teens and young adults–most often drown in open water.

Are drownings preventable?

Drowning is silent and 100% preventable. That’s why we emphasize the A, B, C, & Ds of drowning prevention.

A: Adult supervision. Always have an adult or yourself present with children around any body of water, including pools, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Always keep your eyes on children with zero distractions from cell phones, chores, or other disturbances. Have a phone by the pool or lake and be sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1. Ask if you have neighbors that you can go to for help. Have open discussions on other ways you can be safe around the water.

B: Barriers. Install a regularly inspected fence with a lock and key that goes around your pool. Keep the key out of reach of children. Install an alarm that beeps if doors or windows to the pool are open and one that goes off when the surface of the water is disrupted by movement. Teach children not to enter a pool area until an adult has opened the pool gate.

C: Classes. Families should take safety classes, including swimming and water safety for children, and CPR and First Aid for adults. You can also hold safety lessons at home for the family.

D: Drains and Devices. Teach all swimmers to stay away from all pool and spa drains. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket if you’re on open water.

Will children be at greater risk of drowning this summer due to the ongoing pandemic?

With backyard pool sales increasing by 400% last year during the pandemic as quarantining families looked for ways to keep their kids cool and entertained, water safety experts worry children may be at an even greater risk of drowning this summer because most drownings occur in home pools.

What is pool and spa entrapment?

Drains are one of the most dangerous components of a pool or spa. Entrapment occurs when a person is trapped by the suction power of the drain, which is equivalent to hundreds of pounds of force (300 pounds per square inch). Such force is too strong for a child or even an adult to escape.

How can I make sure that our family pool is safe?

Install a regularly inspected fence with a lock and key that goes around your pool. Keep the key out of reach of children. Install an alarm that beeps if doors or windows to the pool are open and one that goes off when the surface of the water is disrupted by movement. Teach children not to enter a pool area until an adult has opened the pool gate.

Install emergency shutoff switches to shut off pumps, and if the drain cover becomes loose or falls off, shut down the pool immediately and prohibit entering the pool area until it is repaired.

What is the Virginia Graeme Baker Act?

President George W. Bush signed the Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Pool and Spa Safety Act into law in 2007 requiring pools and spas to have anti-entrapment drain covers. Since the law went into effect, there have been no reported fatalities involving a child being entrapped on a suction outlet cover in a public pool or spa.

Are drownings more common in certain U.S. communities?

Historic inequities in access to public swimming pools and swim instruction have led to racial disparities in drowning statistics. 64% of Black children cannot swim, compared to 40% of White children and 45% of Hispanic children, according to a USA Swimming Foundation study. The risk of drowning is disproportionately high for Black children, who are four times as likely to drown than their white counterparts in the U.S., while Hispanic/Latinx children are three times more likely to drown than white children.

The ZAC Foundation is committed to addressing and eliminating these inequities in swimming by providing water safety programming to more than 20,000 children and their families in at-risk communities across the U.S.

How can I know if a public pool is safe for my children?

Know federal and state regulations and check that each pool or spa is inspected, up to code, and that drains are covered.

How can you tell if someone is drowning?

It can be difficult to tell if a person is drowning. Signs that someone is drowning include: their head is at level with the water, they’re gasping for air, their head is bobbing up and down in the water, and they look like they’re climbing a ladder.

Infants and toddlers, however, won’t have the strength to push themselves up with their arms. They may be completely submerged, or their mouths and noses will be under the water. So, never take your eyes off your kids at the pool, even if there’s a lifeguard on duty.

Are drownings loud?

Drownings aren’t loud and dramatic–and they can happen within seconds. They are silent and subtle, and there’s no splashing either.

What should you do when you see someone drowning?

If there’s a lifeguard on duty, alert them immediately. Only enter the water if you have the strength and skill to do so, as attempting a rescue can put you in danger of drowning as well. If they are conscious, throw a life ring, rope, or other flotation device to assist them.

When pulling a near-drowning victim from the water, immediately call 911 and begin CPR if necessary.

Is water safety and drowning prevention a year-round issue?

Drownings happen year-round and at all hours of the day and night. Most drownings happen in environments and during activities unsupervised by lifeguards.

Drowning prevention and practicing the A, B, C & D’s of water safety must be a 365 day a year concern.

What winter water safety tips should I follow?

Being prepared to go out on cold water means being prepared for the possibility of suddenly being immersed into cold water. Make sure you stay safe by staying off of unfamiliar ice, wait to walk out onto ice until it’s at least four inches thick, have an emergency plan, and make swim lessons a priority.

The Zac Foundation

What is The ZAC Foundation?

The ZAC Foundation (TZF) was established in memory of Zachary Archer Cohn to prepare children and families for a lifetime of water safety by funding advocacy, education, and effective programming around water safety. We believe water safety begins the moment an infant leaves the hospital and never ends. TZF has provided water safety programming to more than 20,000 children in at-risk communities nationwide and is spearheading the development of Drowning Prevention Action Plans in four U.S. communities in the hopes of reducing the drowning rate and aiding the development of a National Drowning Prevention Plan that will help save lives.

What is the story behind The ZAC Foundation?

Karen and Brian Cohn co-founded The ZAC Foundation in 2008 after the loss of their six-year-old son, Zachary Archer Cohn, in a pool drain entrapment in their backyard swimming pool. As conscientious parents, they thought they had done everything they could to protect their children around water, including providing swimming classes, laying out the rules of the pool, and ensuring appropriate adult supervision. Zachary, like many other children who have become entrapped, was a strong and proficient swimmer; but his swimming skills were not enough to combat a drain entrapment, which is equivalent to hundreds of pounds of force (300 pounds per square inch).

Can I make a donation to The ZAC Foundation?

Thank you for supporting us in this life-saving work! You may kindly submit donations via PayPal here

ZAC Camps

What are ZAC Camps and how can I attend one?

ZAC Camps are award-winning camps that prepare children and families for a lifetime of water safety. Geared toward children ages 5-9, the four day water safety camps feature classroom instruction, swimming lessons, and opportunities to learn important skills from First Responders so both kids and their parents learn to enjoy the water safely while understanding avoidable risks. A key component of the ZAC Camp is the importance of following the A, B, C and D’s of water safety: Adult supervision, Barriers around water, Water safety Classes, and Drain and Device safety.

In addition to the in-pool lessons and safety classes with First Responders, ZAC Camp participants learn the fundamentals of water safety from an engaging and fun classroom curriculum based on “The Polar Bear Who Couldn’t, Wouldn’t Swim,” a children’s book written by The ZAC Foundation’s co-founders.

By the end of each four-day ZAC Camp, campers are equipped with critical tools to lead them on the path to safe swimming.

To date, ZAC Camps have taught more than 20,000 children in at-risk communities nationwide.

ZAC Camps are held in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs, American Red Cross, the YMCA, and First Responders in each of the local communities.

Would you host a ZAC Camp at my organization?

We are always eager to work with new partners to host ZAC Camps. Please reach out to us at swim@thezacfoundation.com.

Infants

When does water safety begin?

Water safety starts the minute parents leave the hospital with their newborn. A baby can drown in as little as one inch of water whether it’s in a bathtub, bucket, or water. Always stay with and watch your children closely during bath time. And make sure to drain tubs, sinks, and buckets when not in use.

And don’t forget that swimming is not just fun. It’s a life-saving skill, and every family needs to know how to be safe around water. Teach your kids the A, B, C and D’s of water safety and put a family water safety plan in place.

What bath safety tips should I follow?

Give your newborn baby a sponge bath until their umbilical cord has completely fallen off. After that, they will be ready for a “baby bathtub” that is either contoured or has a sling to prevent slipping under water. (Avoid using inflatable tubs.) Fill the tub with a few inches of lukewarm water and never leave your baby unattended. And make sure to turn off your phone to be fully present. Additionally, set everything you need within reach (i.e. soap, washcloth, towel, clothes) before you start so that you can have a hand on your baby at all times.

What can you do to prevent accidental slips and falls during bath time?

More than half of bathtub deaths involve children under the age of one and occur during bath time. To avoid these accidental situations, we suggest constant supervision–never leave your child alone in the tub, not even for a moment. Also, know that babies can slip out of bath chairs, and water doesn’t need to be deep to be a hazard for your child. Babies can drown in water as shallow as 1 – 2 inches.

Can I give my infant swimming lessons or something like Infant Self Rescue classes?

As a parent, we want to do everything we can to protect our children, so we understand the impulse to give swimming lessons to infants. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is currently no evidence that infant swim programs for babies under 1 year old lower their drowning risk. Infants cannot yet raise their heads high enough out of water to breathe safely. By their 4th birthday, most children are ready for swim lessons and by age 5 or 6, most children in swim lessons can master the front crawl.

Where can I learn infant CPR?

Although you hope you’ll never use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for a child or infant, it’s important to know the steps so that you can help in the event of a cardiac or breathing emergency. The American Red Cross teaches child and baby CPR. You can find your local chapter and information about classes at www.redcross.org

What should you do if your infant almost drowned?

Remove your child from the water immediately. If they seem scared but are responsive with minimal coughing, this is a good sign because he/she is breathing, but always give your pediatrician a call with questions or concerns. If your child is responsive but is experiencing secondary or delayed drowning symptoms such as fatigue, persistent coughing, or trouble breathing, head directly to the nearest emergency room. Also, keep an eye out for signs of dry drowning. They are very similar to secondary/delayed drowning, such as persistent coughing and labored breathing, but they may also experience vomiting, fever, and difficulty talking. If your child is unresponsive, check for breathing and have someone call 911. If your child is not breathing, call 911 and begin administering infant CPR.

Toddlers

When should my child learn to swim?

Children grow and learn at different speeds. With that in mind, there is no set age for children to learn to swim. Instead, parents and caregivers should take into consideration their child’s emotional maturity, physical and developmental abilities and limitations, and comfort level in the water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning that can begin for many children as early as the age of one year old. Parent and child lessons help children to form safe water habits at a young age and to build swim readiness skills. Children under the age of one may take swim classes for fun with parents, however, there is no evidence that taking lessons this early in age will reduce drowning risk. Infants cannot yet raise their heads high enough out of water to breathe safely.

Remember that swim lessons at any age do not make a child “drown proof.”

How do I find a good place for my child to have swim lessons?

There are several factors to take into consideration when deciding on the best swim lesson for your child. For younger kids, ages one to four, make sure that the atmosphere is age-appropriate, adults are in the water with the child and within arms length to provide “touch supervision,” pools are clean and well maintained as your child is most likely to swallow water while learning, and the water temperature is warm (87° F-94°F) for children three and under to avoid hypothermia.

It’s also important when vetting swim lessons for children of all ages to look for classes that have qualified instructors, instill good safety habits in and around water, allow you to observe class to gauge your child’s comfort level, and require multiple lessons so that your child can make significant progress toward basic water competency skills.

Swim lessons are most likely offered at your community pool, schools, YMCA, local swim club, or other youth organizations that may have a pool. If cost is a concern, check with your city government for free or affordable lessons at public pools or speak with an instructor about scholarships or payment plans.

What is a Water Watcher?

A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who agrees to watch the kids in the water without distraction. A Water Watcher must keep their eyes on the water at all times, stay off their cell phone, not socialize with family or friends, and never consume alcohol while on duty.

What should you do if your child almost drowned?

Remove your child from the water immediately. If they seem scared but are responsive with minimal coughing, this is a good sign because he/she is breathing, but we always encourage a call to the pediatrician. If your child is responsive but is experiencing secondary or delayed drowning symptoms such as fatigue, persistent coughing, or trouble breathing, head directly to the nearest emergency room. Also, keep an eye out for signs of dry drowning. They are very similar to secondary/delayed drowning, such as persistent coughing and labored breathing, but they may also experience vomiting, fever, and difficulty talking. If your child is unresponsive, check for breathing and have someone call 911. If your child is not breathing, call 911 and begin administering infant CPR.

How can I keep my children safe while swimming?

We like to say, follow the A, B, C and Ds of water safety.

A: Adult supervision. Always have an adult or yourself present with children around any body of water, including pools, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Always keep your eyes on children with zero distractions from cell phones, chores, or other disturbances. Have a phone by the pool or lake and be sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1. Ask if you have neighbors that you can go to for help. Have open discussions on other ways you can be safe around the water.

B: Barriers. Install a regularly inspected fence with a lock and key that goes around your pool. Keep the key out of reach of children. Install an alarm that beeps if doors or windows to the pool are open and one that goes off when the surface of the water is disrupted by movement. Teach children not to enter a pool area until an adult has opened the pool gate.

C: Classes. Families should take safety classes, including swimming and water safety for children, and CPR and First Aid for adults. You can also hold safety lessons at home for the family.

D: Drains and Devices. Teach all swimmers to stay away from all pool and spa drains. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket if you’re on open water.

Grade Schoolers

If there’s a lifeguard on duty, can I relax while my kids swim?

Don’t assume lifeguards can see everything–they may not be able to see the whole pool, they may be watching the shallow end where it’s more crowded but not see little kids congregating by the stairs, and their chairs may be low to the ground giving them a limited view. Even when lifeguards are on duty, parents and caregivers must take responsibility for being a designated Water Watcher-their child’s first line of defense.

If my child is a proficient swimmer, can I let them swim alone when they are at the lake, pool, etc.?

Everyone should swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard. It’s too easy for something to go wrong. Urge your teen to use the buddy system, even when swimming with large groups of friends. Frame the discussion as a positive, “you can go if…”

My kid is a proficient swimmer and knows how to dive, why should I have him jump feet first instead of dive off a pier?

Diving into unsafe water can lead to serious, and sometimes permanent, spinal injuries. It is important to know the water’s depth beforehand so that a diver doesn’t hit the bottom and get a head injury. Also, going in feet first helps a swimmer know whether there are underwater hazards like large rocks that can’t be seen from the surface. Make sure swimmers look for―and follow―any “No Diving” instructions posted.

How do I teach my child to get out of a riptide current?

The best thing to do is not fight the current but to stay calm, float with it, and swim parallel to shore until you can swim free. If you are swimming in rough water, a life jacket is always advised.

Does my child need to wear a life jacket if they already know how to swim?

Lifejackets are part of the ABCDs of water safety. D is for drains (avoid them) and Devices (life jackets). Everyone should wear a life jacket if you’re boating, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing–any watercraft. It is also smart to wear a life jacket when swimming in rough water as well as when jumping off of a pier or similar distance so that if a swimmer is injured by an unseen underwater hazard or has trouble swimming, the life jacket serves its function: to save lives. Adults should wear theirs when boating, too, to be good role models and be ready to help in case of emergency. Make sure your teen knows never to rely on inflatable tubes and rafts as life preservers.

Teens

My Tween or Teen already knows how to swim well, why should I be worried about them drowning?

Even though teenagers crave independence from parents and feel confident in their swimming skills, they are more likely to overestimate their skills and underestimate dangerous situations. The part of their brain that controls complex decision-making and impulse control is still developing at this age, making them more likely to take risks. In addition, teens typically feel like they are being judged by their peers and want to keep up even if they don’t have swimming skills or experience.

I understand the importance of water safety at any age, but convincing my teen is another matter. Any advice?

Like any parent discussion with a teenager, sometimes it’s less important about what you say but how you frame the conversation, avoiding lectures that teens will tune out. In terms of water safety, frame the discussion in a positive way and say “You can” instead of “You should.” For example, you can say “‘you can go swimming if you use a buddy system; you can go kayaking with a friend as long as you both wear life jackets; etc.” Avoid catastrophizing because teens think they are impervious from danger and will never be the one to get hurt.

Any advice for talking to teens about the dangers of drinking and swimming?

Like drinking and driving, drinking and swimming can have deadly consequences. About two-thirds of students have tried alcohol by 12th grade, and research shows alcohol is a leading risk factor in drownings. Drinking alcohol while swimming or boating is a major cause of 30-70% of recreational water deaths among U.S. adolescents. Alcohol is involved in about one-half of all male teen drownings. The best thing you can do is explain that alcohol use while boating increases drowning risks among passengers as well as boat operators. Also, explain that alcohol interferes with swimming skills, balance, coordination, and judgment, and can increase the risk of hypothermia in the water.

Pool Safety 101

The ZAC Foundation was established to prepare children and families for a lifetime of water safety. The organization works to strengthen pool safety legislation and fund advocacy, education, and effective programming surrounding water safety. Zachary’s memory is the inspiration for the Foundation’s mission and activities.

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