If you have a pool, it’s likely the beloved centerpiece of your yard and garden. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also a place where you and your family can gather for fun, spend time together, and make lasting memories. However, your pool is also one of the most dangerous parts of your home, especially for your children and pets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 14. Almost 4,000 people die of drowning annually, which amounts to 11 deaths each day.
While there isn’t much concrete information available about fatal drownings among pets, anecdotal evidence suggests that a similar number of pets may suffer the same fate each year. And this doesn’t account for the many non-fatal dangers your pool poses to your pets and children, including slips, falls, hazardous equipment, and toxic chemicals — all of which can result in severe or permanent injuries.
As a parent and pool owner, it’s crucial to understand these risks so you can mitigate them and keep everyone safe. These problems are preventable, as long as you take some time to learn about pool safety, secure your yard, and educate your kids and pets. That way, you and your loved ones can enjoy your time by the pool without stress or worry.
Pool Safety 101
Before anything else, brush up on the basics of pool safety:
Supervise: Never leave any children, animals, or individuals who cannot swim with unsupervised access to the pool. When supervising, watching the swimmers is the only thing you should be doing. Drowning can happen quietly and in a matter of moments. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to respond to the situation immediately.
Stay sober: Do not swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as the results could be fatal. You also should not supervise swimmers if you are under the influence. If your judgment or motor skills are impaired, you may not be able to effectively respond to an emergency.
Learn CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can save lives, but only if you know how to do it properly. Learn how to do CPR for adults, children (and infants, if applicable), and pets.
Learn the signs of drowning: Familiarize yourself with the most common signs of drowning. It’s difficult to notice because victims are often silent, fighting to get their mouth above the water, and unable to flag down or ask for help. It can happen in under a minute, so the sooner you recognize drowning, the more likely you are to save a life.
Make pool rules: Make rules to govern how your household should go about using the pool. This can include designating “pool hours,” not letting children swim with your pets, and not running by the pool. Set these rules as a family, so everyone knows what’s expected of them. Communicate with your children about the consequences for breaking any of the rules; be sure to stick to your word if they do so.
Store supplies properly: Be smart with your pool supplies and put them away when they aren’t in use. This includes toys like floaties and noodles, as well as cleaning supplies and maintenance equipment. Some of these items are dangerous in and of themselves, but anything can be a trip hazard if it’s left out.
Rinse off: Humans and pets alike should rinse off with clean water once they’re done in the pool. While the levels of chlorine in a pool are unlikely to lead to any serious issues, it’s still a harsh chemical that may irritate the skin. A quick rinse with the hose or in the bath will eliminate that possibility.
Provide fresh water: Pets, particularly dogs, may be tempted to drink directly from the pool when they get thirsty. Again, though this is unlikely to harm your dog, it’s certainly better for them to drink fresh, non-chlorinated water. You should also encourage your children to take breaks from swimming to rest and have water, so they don’t get tired and hurt themselves in the water.
Be prepared for emergencies: Make sure you and your yard are ready to handle any pool- or water-related emergencies. Keep a phone near the pool or on your person when supervising swimmers, so you can call for help quickly. You should also have emergency equipment, including a first aid kit and flotation devices, that you can use to rescue swimmers if they need help.
Many of these safety basics apply to other situations where your children and pets are swimming or near water. Public pools, lakes and ponds, and fountains or small water features can be just as dangerous if you aren’t careful. Essentially, do your best to be vigilant and aware whenever your family is near water, whether or not anyone is going swimming.
Securing the Pool Area
In addition to these fundamentals, you can make some changes so your pool and yard are safer for all kids, animals, and visitors.
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) advocates for “layers of protection” when it comes to swimming pools. They recommend using multiple strategies, or layers, to prevent accidental injuries and drowning. The more strategies you use at once, the safer everyone will be.
Consider making the following additions and changes to your pool area to maximize security:
First and foremost, install a fence around the pool area. Depending on where you live, you may be legally required to install a pool fence. Even if you aren’t, physically blocking off the pool goes a long way in preventing people and animals from falling into the water.
Your fence should be at least four feet tall, though it could be taller, depending on your space and personal preferences. It should also have self-closing and latching gates; that way, if someone forgets to close the gate, it will still shut on its own. All the latches need to be high enough that children can’t reach them.
For extra security, you can also install a lock on the gate. This is a good idea if people could enter your yard from the outside and get access to the pool. Make sure only you and other trusted adults have access to the key or code to unlock the gate.
Store all of your pool toys, chemicals, pumps, cleaners, and other maintenance equipment properly, as they are hazards in and of themselves.
Chlorine and other chemicals are essential to keep your pool clean, but they can also be harmful. These chemicals often come in highly concentrated forms and can make people and pets sick if they’re ingested. Only take them out when you need to clean the pool and take care to secure them when they aren’t in use.
Your other equipment can increase the risk of tripping and falling if left out. At best, someone could trip and get a few scrapes and bruises; at worst, they could fall into the pool. These items also make it more difficult to respond quickly and safely to an emergency, posing additional risks to rescuers. What’s more, if toys or floaties are left in the pool, your view may be obstructed and you may not realize that someone needs help.
A pool house or pool shed is the ideal place to store all of your gear. These structures allow you to keep all your gear and treatment chemicals organized and away from kids and pets. They’re typically located right by your pool, making your items easy to access when you need them. There are many different styles and designs to choose from, so you can find a structure that is both functional and beautiful. Your garage is another great space to store pool items if an additional structure won’t work in your yard. Wherever you store your pool gear, make sure it’s on a high shelf or out of children’s reach.
Ladders, Stairs, and Ramps
Put ladders or portable stairs into your pool. This can make it easier for children and pets to climb out of the water if they start to struggle or need to get out quickly. Place these items in the deep end, or opposite the primary entrance and exit of the pool.
You should also consider putting in some kind of escape ramp for animals. Ramps like the Critter Skimmer, FrogLog, and Skamper-Ramp provide a quick way out of the pool for animals of all kinds, including pets and wildlife. Some animals, like squirrels or frogs, may not be able to use the stairs to get out of the water. Animals that can use the usual steps may struggle with them if they fall in unexpectedly. As is the case with children, having more than one opportunity to exit the pool can go a long way in saving animals’ lives.
Covers and Nets
Get something to cover your pool, such as a blanket or pool cover, so you can close it off when it isn’t in use. This will deter people from purposefully entering the pool when they aren’t supposed to or on accident, which is great if no one is around to supervise swimmers. As a bonus, a cover will help keep your pool clean between uses.
The only downside? Covers can be costly to install and maintain, particularly if you get one that’s motorized. A mesh or vinyl cover, or a pool net, is a more affordable option, but you’ll have to manually move it whenever you decide to go for a dip. No matter what kind of cover you choose, remove it completely from the pool before you go swimming.
Don’t rely on a cover or net as your only layer of protection. If someone does happen to fall in, they could get tangled in the cover and have more trouble escaping than if there hadn’t been a cover. This isn’t to say that you should forgo a cover, just that you still need to be careful when one is in place.
If you don’t have one already, you can also install some kind of alarm or security system. This will alert you whenever a door or window opens, so you know if someone is headed out to the pool. You may be able to use a different sound on the doors and windows giving access to the pool area than the rest of your home.
In some instances, you may have to install a pool alarm. Using motion sensors, these devices let you know whenever something gets into the water. As an extra precaution, you can get a wearable pool alarm for your child or pet; that way, you’ll also know who has entered the pool.
If you have a security system, cameras, or pool alarms, they can also be useful for detecting when someone gets into the pool — as long as you use them wisely. Though helpful, security cameras are not a sufficient replacement for in-person supervision. When you get a notification or alert that something has gotten into the pool, go outside, see what’s happening, and make sure everything is okay.
Don’t forget to install covers on the drains in your pool. Hair, swimsuits, jewelry, and even limbs can get caught in uncovered drains, trapping swimmers in dangerous positions beneath the water. Small children and pets are especially vulnerable, as they may not be able to free themselves if they get caught.
Never let anyone get into the pool if the cover is damaged, loose, or off of the drain completely. Check the drains before swimming and fix them as quickly as possible if anything is wrong.
Further, make sure anyone with long hair has tied it back. You should also ask people to remove any jewelry or accessories that could get pulled into a drain. Even when they’re covered, it’s still a good idea to minimize the risk of drains as much as you can.
Make sure the pool area is well-lit. It can be hard to see the water when it’s dark out, which is risky for everyone who comes to your home. Try placing lights around the perimeter of the pool, so it’s clear where the pool is. You can also use motion-detector lights, so the entire yard lights up when someone goes outside.
If possible, put lights in the pool itself. Underwater lights are another effective way to show exactly where the pool is in your yard (and they can add a nice touch of ambiance!). You can install lights directly into the side of your pool or mount them using brackets. If that’s not in your budget or won’t work for your pool, you can place floating lights on the surface of the water.
Be extra cautious when swimming in the dark. It’s even more difficult to notice when something is wrong if you can’t see well. Take full advantage of any lights in your yard if you or your family decide to use the pool at night.
Consider placing signs around your pool that warn others of the potential dangers they face when they go near or in the pool. Depending on where you live, you may be legally required to put up signage, even for your private pool. Be sure to check your local laws to ensure you’re compliant with all rules and regulations.
If you want or need to put up signs, you don’t have to use boring or generic ones. As long as the message is clear and the sign is easy to read, you can get creative and have fun with it. You could even get together with your family to make the signs and use them as a DIY pool or yard decoration.
Making these changes to your home won’t remove the inherent dangers of swimming or eliminate the need for distraction-free supervision. Instead, they will help create a safer environment and make it more difficult for kids and pets to get unauthorized access to the pool.
Maintaining Your Pool and Yard
That said, your work is only just beginning. Once you’ve added layers of protection, you need to take care to clean and maintain them. If you focus on regular maintenance, you can ensure your pool is in good working order whenever you and your family want to use it.
Keep your pool clean by regularly fishing out debris and using chlorine or other chemicals. These cleaning chemicals are essential to pool cleanliness and safe to swim in. Without them, your pool is an ideal breeding ground for harmful microorganisms and bacteria that can make both animals and humans sick. However, these chemicals can be just as dangerous for swimmers when they’re used incorrectly. Take care to follow the cleaning instructions as closely as possible, as chlorine is perfectly safe if it’s used properly.
Take similar precautions in the rest of your yard. Clean it regularly, so kids and pets can play safely. Keep your yard tools and maintenance equipment in your shed or other storage structure when you aren’t using them and make sure they’re properly stored once spring and summer are over. Fix anything that breaks as quickly as you can, particularly in the area closest to the pool. Cracked concrete, damaged tiles, and other broken items can be hazardous for anyone who gets in the water. If you aren’t sure how to fix something, enlist the help of someone who does to prevent further damage.
Educating Kids on Safe Pool Conduct
Getting your pool and yard in shape is only half the battle. It’s arguably even more important to teach your kids about how to be safe near water. That way, they’ll have the wherewithal to stay safe in any situation involving swimming or a body of water.
Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind while teaching your children safe pool conduct:
Get swimming lessons: The single most effective way to protect your kids near water is to teach them how to swim. Multiple studies have found that children are significantly less likely to drown if they know how to swim. You can start getting your child comfortable in the water from a young age, but it’s a good idea to sign them up for age-appropriate lessons as soon as possible. Continue to work on your child’s swimming skills as they get older and begin to do different things in the water.
Learn water-competency skills: Make sure everyone in your family knows the five basics of water competency. You and your children must be able to tread water for at least a minute; swim at least 25 yards; enter and surface from water that is over your head; turn around in the water to find an exit; and get out of the pool without a ladder, steps, or a ramp. Of course, these skills are just the beginning. You can keep teaching your children additional water skills as they get older and stronger.
Educate them: Talk to your children about the dangers of swimming. You don’t need to traumatize or frighten them, but make sure they understand how risky being near or in the pool can be. If they know the consequences of being unsafe by the pool, your kids may be more likely to prioritize safety when they go swimming.
Follow the rules: Set rules for your pool, communicate those rules to your family, and make sure your kids follow them. Again, emphasize the importance of safety when it comes to swimming and explain why your kids need to follow these rules. If they break the rules, there need to be consequences for doing so, such as a temporary loss of pool privileges. Stick to whatever consequences you give to show your kids just how important and serious this situation is.
Ask for help: Finally, teach your kids to ask an adult for help when they’re by the water. If something goes wrong or seems off, they shouldn’t try to handle the situation on their own. Make sure they know that they won’t get in trouble for asking for help, even if there’s only a minor issue. After all, asking for help could end up saving someone’s life.
Again, like making adjustments to your yard, teaching your kids about pool safety will not remove the intrinsic dangers of swimming or being near water. However, it will better prepare them to navigate the risks of water for the rest of their lives.
Teaching Pool Safety to Your Pet
Similarly, you have to take some time to make sure your pets are safe by the pool. Before anything else, assess whether your pet can or should be near the pool. Many animals — such as reptiles, amphibians, and fish — probably shouldn’t be around the pool at all.
If your pet can be near the pool, don’t assume they already know how to swim. For example, not all dogs are good swimmers, even if their breed is known for it. Dogs need to learn many of the same water-competency basics as humans, including how to swim, how to get out of the water, and how to use a flotation device. Your dog doesn’t need to enjoy swimming, but since they live in a house with a pool, they need to know these life-saving water safety skills. Dogs should also be supervised by an adult when they’re in the pool, even if they’re strong swimmers.
Educating your children and pets about pool and swimming safety, in conjunction with adding physical layers of protection to your yard, will go a long way in protecting everyone in your family. This will ensure all of your loved ones will enjoy themselves and your home (with minimal risk) for years to come.
Additional Resources and Further Reading
For more information about pool safety and water competency, check out the following resources:
CPR Training With the American Red Cross: This search engine from the American Red Cross allows you to find CPR training courses in your area.
The NDPA: The NDPA believes that drowning is preventable, and they want to save lives by reducing aquatic incidents. They provide resources and information for parents, as well as professionals and NDPA partners.
PoolSafely.gov: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched the Pool Safely campaign to protect children from the dangers of water and swimming. In addition to raising awareness, they also provide resources to help state and local governments protect and educate parents, children, and community members.
Stop Drowning Now (SDN): SDN is a non-profit organization that provides educational resources about water safety to educators, parents, and community members. Their ultimate aim is to eliminate drownings among children, especially among children who are more vulnerable to aquatic incidents.
Water Safety USA: Water Safety USA is a coalition of different agencies and government organizations that have a proven track record of working to promote water safety. Their mission is to prevent drowning by educating the public on how to protect themselves near and in water.
Water Watcher Card: You can use a Water Watcher card to signify who is currently responsible for overseeing any swimmers. Download and print the card for free, then share it with other adults. That way, it’s always clear who is in charge of distraction-free supervision.