Water Safety for Young Children

Updated May 13th, 2024

Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death for Canadians, and it often happens quickly and silently. In Manitoba, on average, there are 23 fatal drownings every year. Many of these tragedies happen in bathtubs, backyard pools, lakes and rivers. Regardless of whether water is found in nature or in a backyard, caution needs to be practiced around water.

Children are at higher risk for drowning

All children are at risk for drowning but young children under five years old are at higher risk because:

  • They are attracted to water but can’t understand the danger.
  • They can walk but they can’t swim.
  • They lack balance and co-ordination and are at increased risk of falling into water.
  • Their lungs are smaller than adults’ lungs.
  • They can drown in as little as 2.5 centimetres (one inch) of water.

Children should never be left alone

In all recent Manitoba drownings of young children, there was either no adult supervision or the adult was distracted (present, but not watching the child). Children should never be left alone in or near water, including the bathtub, even for a moment.

  • All children should be supervised by an adult when they are in or around water.
    • It is best that the adult knows how to swim and has been trained in CPR. Do not leave older children (under the age of 16) to supervise younger siblings.
    • The adult must be in the water with young children. Supervising from the beach or pool deck is not safe enough.
    • The Lifesaving Society recommends a supervision ratio of at least 1 adult for every baby and 1 adult for every 2 young children.
  • Babies should be held by an adult at all times. In Canada, approved life jackets and PFDs are not available for infants who weigh less than 9 kg (20 lb).
  • Toddlers should always be within arm’s reach of an adult when they are in or around water. This includes bathtubs, pools (including wading pools), lakes and rivers.

Water safety around your yard

  • Supervision is still the most important thing you can do to prevent drowning.
  • Never leave your child unattended and stay in arm’s reach around pools, ponds or hot tubs.
  • Empty buckets and pails or coolers as soon as you are done with them.
  • If you have a rain barrel, make sure it is child resistant and labeled as such.

Toddler pools

  • Use diapers designed for use in water. Regular diapers get heavy, come apart and can cause your child to lose his balance.
  • Empty toddler and other portable backyard pools after use (at least once daily).

Swimming pools (In- or Above-ground) and Hot Tubs

  • Parents and pool owners should learn how to swim and how to rescue a drowning victim. They should get trained and stay certified in first aid and CPR.
  • Pool owners should have:
    • an emergency action plan,
    • rescue equipment, including a first aid kit, reaching pole, and ring buoy attached to a rope
    • a telephone on the deck or poolside.
  • Pools should be fenced on four sides so that children do not have easy access to the pool. Its safest if the house is not used as one of the sides. Gates to the pool area should be self-closing and self-latching. Check with your municipality about regulations for pools, spas and hot tubs. In Winnipeg, in ground and above ground pools, hot tubs or spas that are 24” and deeper require a development and a building permit.
  • If your hot tub or spa is not fenced in, it should have a locking hard cover or be located in an area that can be closed and locked. Infants and toddlers should not swim in hot tubs because they overheat too quickly and can’t tell you if they feel dizzy or too hot.
  • Slide or play equipment should be designed specifically for pool use. Teach children to slide in a sitting position.

What about public pools and spray pads?

It is important to supervise your children even if there are lifeguards on duty.

Teach your children these important swimming pool rules and follow them at all times:

  • No swimming without an adult.
  • No running or pushing.
  • Young children and non-swimmers wear a PFD.

Will swimming lessons make my children safer?

Swimming lessons may not protect or prevent a child from drowning.  Lessons are just one of several important layers of protection to help prevent drowning. It is a good idea for all family members to take swimming lessons, which include water safety information.  

Teach your children these important swimming pool rules and follow them at all times:

  • No swimming without an adult.
  • No running or pushing.

Should I use a life jacket or a PFD for my child?

Yes, along with supervision, adding a life-jacket or PFD makes your child safer still. Here is the difference between a life-jacket and a PFD: 

  • A life-jacket can turn the person over from face-down to face-up. 
  • A PFD will keep a person floating, but not necessarily face-up. 
Life-jacket / PFD safety tips: 
  • PFDs or life jackets should be worn by all infants who weigh at least 9 kg (20 lb) and by toddlers who are swimming or playing near or in the water.
    • It should be the right size for your child’s weight.
    • Make sure it stays buckled up.
    • Keep all safety straps fastened, including the crotch strap.
  • Check the label to be sure that your child’s PFD or life jacket meets current national safety standards. It should be approved by at least one of the following: Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Remember that water wings, neck rings, bathing suits with flotation devices in them, and other swim toys ARE NOT safety devices!
Did you know… some Manitoba Parks loans life-jacket to visitors? See Life-jacket Loan Program for more information.