Swimming Safety

Ultimate Guide to Recreational Swimming Safety

Swimming Safety

Summertime is fast approaching, and that means people of all ages are looking forward to spending some time outdoors, soaking up some sun, and participating in all kinds of water-related recreational activities, whether that means visiting the beach, boating, or swimming at your local public pool (or maybe even your backyard). Swimming and other water-related recreational activities are a popular pastime. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a nice, refreshing swim on a hot summer day?

But spending time in the water brings some risks and challenges, particularly for age groups like children and the elderly. Drowning is not the only risk associated with swimming; slips and falls, fractures, and even the spread of infectious diseases are also risks. We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to recreational swimming safety in honor of National Water Safety Month. Using the information, tips, and resources in this guide, you’ll be prepared with the essential swimming skills, the right safety equipment, and other precautions and safety measures to keep your family safe while enjoying a much-deserved day of fun in the sun.

Drowning Statistics

It’s not fun to look at drowning statistics, but it’s important to review the numbers to understand the very real risks of being unprepared near swimming pools and other sources of water. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 174 children between the ages of one and 14 drowned in 2014 between Memorial Day and Labor Day. One hundred twelve of these victims were under age five. During the same time period in 2013, 202 children in the same age range drowned, with 143 of the victims under age 5.

The CPSC reports on the states with the highest number of drowning incidents among children between the ages of one and 14, based on media reports gathered by USA Swimming. The following states had five or more drowning incidents in this age range in 2014 between Memorial Day and Labor Day:

1. California: 21
2. Texas: 20
3. Georgia: 13
4. New York: 12
5. Illinois: 11
6. Florida: 10
7. North Carolina: 10
8. Arizona: 7
9. Ohio: 7
10. Louisiana: 5
11. South Carolina: 5
12. Virginia: 5

It doesn’t matter how old someone is, drowning accidents are incredibly sad and unfortunate. By following essential water safety tips and best practices, you can help prevent these types of incidents from happening at your local public pool, your backyard swimming pool, at the beach, or anywhere you might be enjoying a casual swim.

National Water Safety Month

We’ve created this guide in recognition of National Water Safety Month, which takes place in May each year. National Water Safety Month, an annual awareness campaign created by The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals in collaboration with the National Recreation & Parks Association, the American Red Cross and the World Waterpark Association, was created to recognize the popularity of swimming and other water-related recreational activities in the United States.

Because swimming and other water-related activities, such as boating, water parks, and other activities, are so popular in the summer months, water safety awareness has become a priority. National Water Safety Month was created to address the need for ongoing public education on safer water practices, so that people in the U.S. can safely participate in fun recreational swimming, water sports, boating, and the like, while taking proper safety measures to avoid dangerous accidents.

With The Ultimate Guide to Recreational Swimming Safety, we hope to play an important role in these education efforts by arming readers like you with essential water safety tips and information for every age group, people at every level of ability, and even your four-legged friends. Armed with the information in this guide, swimming this summer will not only be a fun and enjoyable activity, but a safe one for the whole family, too.


The following guide includes tips and resources for safe recreational swimming in public pools and other locations for children, adults, the elderly, and general swimming safety tips for people of all ages.

Important Pool Rules

Following some essential pool rules is the first step to staying safe while enjoying a recreational swim. These resources outline some basic and important pool rules.

Pay careful attention to the posted rules at the pool, as well as any directives given by lifeguards. This article from the DC Department of Parks and Recreation outlines pool rules and safety tips.

Never leave young children unattended. Children can drown in as little as two inches of water. This resource discusses the dangers of water sources for children, even everyday sources in the home such as sinks and bathtubs, as well as tips for teaching children to ask permission before nearing water and what to do in case of an emergency.

Don’t swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol impair your judgement and coordination, increasing the risk of drowning.

Avoid entrapments. Swimming pools have drains and suction outlets that can capture hair, limbs, jewelry, and clothing if not covered properly. This article suggests making sure that public pools have compliant drain covers to reduce these risks.

Don’t dive head-first unless the water is deep enough. Most states have guidelines establishing the water depth at which head-first diving is permissible. Public pools generally have signs warning swimmers against head-first diving in shallow depths that do not meet these criteria, but in general, you should avoid head-first diving unless you can be sure the water is deep enough.

Wear proper swim attire. Loose clothing, such as shorts and t-shirts, can increase the risk of entrapment in drains and suction outlets.

Preventing Infectious Diseases

The following tips and resources provide helpful information on preventing infectious diseases, such as measles, when enjoying recreational swimming at both public and private swimming locations.

Infectious Disease Risks Associated with Recreational Swimming

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in eight public swimming pools may pose an infection risk. This 2010 report “analyzed data from more than 121,000 routine pool inspections in 13 states in 2008. More than 12 percent of the inspections found serious violations that caused the pools to close immediately.”

Chlorine does not kill all germs and bacteria immediately. Despite popular belief, chlorine is not an end-all solution to germs, bacteria, and the risk of spreading infectious disease in public swimming pools. In fact, as this report notes, it can take minutes or even days for chlorine to kill germs once they’ve entered a pool. This article also outlines the various types of Recreational water illnesses (RWIs), including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections, as well as the causes of these illnesses.

The risk of illness or infection from public or shared recreational swimming pools and facilities is commonly associated with fecal contamination of the water. This comprehensive guide from the World Health Organization discusses the common causes of water contamination, as well as guidelines for creating safe recreational water environments.

Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) are caused by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water. This article reveals how infectious diseases and illnesses are spread from person to person in recreational swimming pools and similar shared recreational swimming settings.

Other swimmers are not the only way water can become contaminated. As this article points out, contamination can be carried into the pool water by the environment, such as wind or rain, or by swimmers.

There are a variety of illnesses that can be acquired from recreational swimming facilities. This article outlines the multiple diseases that can be spread through contaminated or improperly sanitized water in a recreational swimming setting.

Measles is an increasing concern in light of the anti-vaccine movement. Measles lives in the throat and nose mucus of the infected individual, and this highly contagious disease is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. Additionally, measles can linger in the air and infect surfaces for up to two hours after contamination. The nature of recreational swimming makes it an ideal environment for the spread of measles to unvaccinated children and adults alike.

Reducing the Risk of Infectious Disease in Recreational Swimming Environments

Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. Diarrhea is a common side effect of many illnesses and can even be a reaction from a medication, such as an antibiotic. Whatever the reason for your condition, avoid swimming when you have diarrhea to avoid spreading germs that can cause serious illness in other swimmers.

In fact, you should wait 14 days after diarrhea has ended before swimming in a public or shared swimming pool. This article offers several tips for avoiding the spread of infectious disease in swimming pools, including waiting two weeks after having diarrhea before swimming.

Avoid swallowing pool water. Ingesting contaminated pool water introduces germs and bacteria directly into the body, increasing the likelihood that you’ll become sick.

Shower with soap and water before entering a recreational swimming pool. This article offers several tips and suggestions for preventing the spread of germs such as Cryptosporidium, or Crypto, which causes diarrhea. As this resource points out, it’s important to wash children thoroughly with soap and water, particularly their rear ends, to avoid spreading fecal matter into the water. However, it’s important for swimmers of all ages to shower before swimming, as everyone’s bodies have invisible amounts of fecal matter that ends up in the pool water.

Do not use swimming pools if you have conjunctivitis (pink eye). This contagious virus is easily spread through contamination of water in shared swimming facilities.

Take frequent bathroom breaks. This article suggests hourly bathroom breaks for children, in addition to changing diapers in a diaper-changing area, rather than poolside.

Wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. This article covers safe swimming practices for preventing RWIs, including washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the restroom or changing a child’s diaper.

Check children’s diapers often. A soiled diaper that goes unnoticed is more likely to leak fecal matter into the water, which leads to the spread of germs and infectious diseases.

Get vaccinated. There are vaccinations for many common infectious diseases, such as measles, which prevent vaccinated individuals from contracting the illness when exposed. This resource outlines common childhood illnesses, preventative measures, and information on the availability of preventative vaccinations.

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