Thousands of swimmers will flock to the Jersey Shore and to local pools this summer, and families should be mindful of the danger of drowning for children of all ages. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for persons aged 5 to 44, according to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).

“For children in the 1- to 2-year age range, drowning is the leading cause of injury death,” says Joshua Rosenblatt, MD, Chairman of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “For every 10 children who die by drowning, 140 are treated in emergency rooms, and 36 are admitted for further treatment, and may suffer long-term disability.”

Children’s Hospital of New Jersey and the USLA offer the following swimming safety tips for children and families:

  • Swim near a lifeguard: The chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a beach with lifeguards.
  • Learn to Swim: Learning to swim is the best defense against drowning. Teach children to swim at an early age. Children who are not taught tend to avoid swim instruction as they age, probably due to embarrassment.
  • Never swim alone: Many drownings involve single swimmers. When you swim with a buddy, if one of you has a problem, the other may be able to help, including signaling for assistance from others.
  • Don't fight the current: 80 percent of rescues by lifeguards at beaches are caused by rip currents. Swimmers in a riptide should follow these measures:
    • Stay calm, tread water or float- call or wave for assistance.
    • Don't swim against the current.
    • Swim parallel to shore when in the rip current.
    • Once out of the current, swim directly to shore.
  • Leash your board: Surfboards and bodyboards should be used only with a leash. Leashes are usually attached to the board and the ankle or wrist. With a leash, the user will not become separated from the floatation device.
  • Don't float when you can't swim: Non-swimmers often use floatation devices, like inflatable rafts, to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a floatation device unless they are able to swim.
  • Life jackets = boating safety: Some 80 percent of fatalities associated with boating accidents are from drowning. Most involve people who never expected to end up in the water, but fell overboard or ended up in the water when the boat sank. Children are particularly susceptible to this problem.
  • Don't dive headfirst, protect your neck: Serious injuries, including paraplegia, occur every year due to diving headfirst into unknown water and striking the bottom. Check for depth before diving.
  • At home, you're the lifeguard: Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in many states for children age 1 and 2. Many of these deaths occur in the few moments it takes a parent to answer a telephone or doorbell. NEVER leave a child alone anywhere near a pool. Make sure it is completely fenced and that there is no access from the home to the pool.
  • A daily rip current outlook is issued by many National Weather Service offices. Visit Surf Zone Forecast.