Year-Round Water Safety Tips

Ensure your children are safe in the water with these nine expert-backed tips

Swim Safety

Summer might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean water safety should leave with it. Whether you’re planning a warm weather family trip for the holidays or visiting an indoor pool, water safety should always be top of mind, especially if you have young children. Children can drown in as little as two inches of water, which means everyday tasks like bathing pose a risk.

“People think that drowning is like it is in the movies where you’re going to be flailing and yelling, and somebody is going to hear you, which is not the case,” says Linda Watkins, injury prevention coordinator at Inova Trauma Center – Fairfax. “Drowning is silent. You can’t hear them, especially once they go under.”

Watkins, shares her best tips for ensuring your little ones are safe in the water, whether you are out swimming or in your own home.

At The Pool, Lake or Beach ­– or at Home

  • Model safe behavior. Parents are role models for everything, Watkins says, which means it’s crucial for them to demonstrate safe behavior around water. This means listening to lifeguards, putting cellphones away and safely entering and exiting the pool.

Also, be sure to reiterate water safety rules each time you take your children swimming, as children can often forget rules and past guidance.

  • Remember the arm’s length rule. Watkins says if your child is swimming, a good rule of thumb is to always either be with them in the water or be an arm’s length distance away. “Never let them out of your sight,” she says.
  • Don’t leave toys in the pool. If you have a pool at your house, avoid leaving floaties and other toys in the pool, as this could entice young children to jump into the water when an adult isn’t around. “Kids are curious, and they’re going to try and get those things,” Watkins says, adding that parents should also consider putting a lock or alarm on the gate or entrance to the pool so children cannot enter without an adult.
  • Put your smartphone away.  Children can drown in as little as 25 seconds, the time it takes to do a quick scroll through your newsfeed or check your email. “We want to make sure that all parents and adults are aware that it’s not appropriate to be on your devices when you are in charge of children at the pool,” Watkins says. “It is important to have your phone handy just in case there is an emergency, but there is no substitute for active supervision.

If an important call or text comes through, make sure you have a “water watcher.” This means that if you’re at the pool with more than one adult, one can be the water watcher, while the other takes an important call, Watkins says. Keep in mind that a water watcher shouldn’t be responsible for more than two children.

  • Always wear life jackets in open water. Even if your children can swim, they should always wear life jackets while swimming in open water, such as a lake. “A lot of people think that because they can swim, they don’t need a life jacket,” Watkins says. “But anybody can get into trouble.”

In addition, if your children are swimming in open water, be sure they know to swim only in designated areas. “Swim only in areas that are designed to swim in, not creeks or rivers or areas with which you’re not familiar,” Watkins says.

  • Teach your children the “row, throw or don’t go” rule. Watkins says that when professionals at Inova teach children about water safety, they teach them the phrase, “Row, throw, or don’t go” if a friend is in trouble.

Children should not jump into the water to save a friend. If they have something to row or throw out to someone that they can grab onto to stay afloat, they should do that. “But if that fails, they definitely need to get help and let somebody who is a professional go out and help that friend,” Watkins says.

At Home

  • Be cautious while using buckets and large containers around the house. Because children can drown in just a couple inches of water, Watkins says it’s important for parents to be aware of leaving buckets of water in and around the house. “If you were mopping or cleaning, you wouldn’t want to leave anything lying around, because children are curious,” she says. “They could put their head in there, and they could drown.”
  • Close the toilet seat. Watkins says it’s important to make sure you put the lid on the toilet down after each use. If necessary with very curious toddlers, you can consider buying a lock that you can put on the toilet seat so a young child can’t lift it up.
  • Always supervise children in the bathtub. If you’re giving your child a bath and the phone rings or the dog barks, it can be tempting to run off and see what’s happening. But your child could slowly slip into the water and drown before you get back.

Need emergency care? Click for hours and locations of our hospital-based emergency rooms (ER) and stand-alone (walk-in) emergency centers. Safe Kids Fairfax County is led by Inova Fairfax Hospital, which provides dedicated and caring staff, operation support and other resources to assist in achieving our common goal: keeping your kids safe. Based on the needs of the community, this coalition implements evidence-based programs, such as car-seat checkups, safety workshops, and sports clinics, that help parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries. All of our services are free and open to the public. For more information, call 703.776.3259 or contact Linda Watkins at

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