Drowning Prevention

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National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Mailstop K65
4770 Buford Highway NE
Atlanta, GA 30341-3724

Phone: 770.488.1506
Fax: 770.488.1667
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How large is the problem of unintentional drowning in the United States?
In 1997, 4,051 people drowned, including 964 children younger than 15 years old.1
In 1992, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports of 6,000 crashes involving recreational boats that resulted in 3,700 injuries and 816 deaths.2

Which groups of people are more likely to drown?


Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children (aged 1 through 14 years), accounting for 905 deaths in 1997.1


In 1997, drowning rates were at least three times greater for males than for females for almost every age group.1


In 1997, the overall age-adjusted drowning rate for blacks was 42.6% higher than that for whites. Black children ages 5 through 19 years drowned at 1.5 - 3 times the rate of whites.1 Black children ages 1 through 4 years had a lower drowning rate than white children, largely because drownings in that age group typically occur in residential swimming pools, which are not as accessible to minority children in the United States.1,3,4

Where do childhood drownings occur most often?

Most children drown in swimming pools. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), emergency departments reported that among children younger than 5 years old, about 320 fatal drownings in 1991 and nearly 2,300 non-fatal near-drownings in 1993 occurred in residential swimming pools. Between 60-90% of drownings among children aged 0-4 years occur in residential pools; more than half of these occur at the child's own home. Compared with in-ground pools without four-sided fencing, 60% fewer drownings occur in in-ground pools with four-sided isolation fencing.5

How often is alcohol use involved in drownings?

Alcohol use is involved in about 25-50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. It is a major contributing factor in up to 50% of drownings among adolescent boys.6,7

Which states have the highest rates of drowning?

States with the Highest Rates of Unintentional Drowning per 100,000 population* (1997)1


Number of people drowned

Rate per 100,000 persons (1996)































United States



*Ranking based on age-adjusted rate. 
Source: NCHS 1998 Mortality Data

What can government agencies do to prevent drownings?

Mandate and enforce legal limits for blood alcohol levels during water recreation activities.
Provide public service announcements about the danger of combining alcohol with water recreation.
Eliminate advertisements that encourage alcohol use during boating.
Restrict the sale of alcohol at water recreation facilities.

If you have a swimming pool at your home:

Install a four-sided, isolation pool-fence with self-closing and self-latching gates around the pool. The fence should be at least 4 feet tall and completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard.
Prevent children from having direct access to a swimming pool.
Install a telephone near the pool. Know how to contact local emergency medical services. Post the emergency number, 911, in an easy-to-see place.
Learn CPR.

Additional Tips for Open Water

Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Thunderstorms and strong winds can be extremely dangerous to swimmers and boaters.
Restrict activities to designated swimming areas, which are usually marked by buoys.
Be cautious, even with lifeguards present.
Use U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (life jackets) when boating, regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat, or swimming ability of boaters.
Remember that open water usually has limited visibility, and conditions can sometimes change from hour to hour. Currents are often unpredictable -- they can move rapidly and quickly change direction. A strong water current can carry even expert swimmers far from shore.
Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents -- water that is discolored, unusually choppy, foamy, or filled with debris.
If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Once you are out of the current, swim toward the shore.



US Consumer Product Safety Commission Clearinghouse 
(for information about pool-related drownings and injuries.
(301) 504-0424 

US Coast Guard, Office of Recreational Boating Safety 
(for information about boating-related drownings)
(202) 267-1077 



  1. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). National Mortality Data, 1997. Hyattsville (MD): NCHS 1998.
  2. US Coast Guard Boating Statistics, 1992. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation (COMDTPUB P16754.8).
  3. Branche CM. What is happening with drowning rates in the United States? In: JR Fletemeyer and SJ Freas (eds). Drowning: New perspectives on intervention and prevention. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press LLC, 1999.
  4. Branche-Dorsey CM, Russell JC, Greenspan AI, Chorba TC. Unintentional injuries: the problems and some preventive strategies. In: IL Livingston (ed). Handbook of Black American Health: The mosaic of conditions, issues, policies and prospects. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994.
  5. US Consumer Product Safety Commission Clearinghouse, Washington DC, (301) 504-0424.
  6. National Safety Council, 1993. Accident Facts, 1993 Ed. Itasca, Illinois: Author.
  7. Howland J, Hingson R. Alcohol as a risk factor for drowning: a review of the literature (1950-1985). Accident Analysis and Prevention 1988;20:19-25.

Last reviewed January 27,2000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control