Home pools are an enormous source of fun and a excellent way for children to get plenty of fresh air and physical activity during the summer. To ensure your pool experience is as safe as it is enjoyable, here is the ultimate guide to home pool safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the number two cause of deaths among children ages one to four, and most of those drownings occur in home swimming pools.
Drowning deaths are not the only cause for worry. For every child under 15 years old who dies from drowning in a pool, another five children receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Nonfatal submersion can cause brain damage, leading to a number of long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functions.
While learning to swim is an excellent way for a child to remain safe, sometimes even the strongest swimmer can get into trouble in the water. Likewise, providing your non-swimmer with armbands, floats, and rubber rings is sensible, but it is no substitution for other safety features around your home pool.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent pool accidents.
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- Pool Rules
- Pool Fences
- Pool Covers and Nets
- Pool Alarms
- Anti-entrapment Drain Covers
- Emergency Training and Equipment
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Nothing can ever be an adequate substitute for proper adult supervision around the pool. By proper adult supervision, we mean at least one adult whose sole job it is to watch the kids in and around the water.
If you are the “Water Watcher,” you need to have eyes on the kids in the water at all times. No reading, no checking the cell phone, no chatting with a friend, and definitely no leaving them “just for a moment” while you run indoors to grab a drink or a towel. It sounds drastic, but a child can drown silently in less than a minute, and even a momentary lapse of supervision can be fatal.
Because it is so intense and draining, make sure you have other “Water Watchers” available to tap in and give you a break. Everyone deserves to enjoy pool time, and that includes you!
Talking with children and setting rules
Always teach your child and any visiting children the rules of your home pool and make sure your child follows the rules around all bodies of water. Suitable rules include the following:
- Don’t go into the pool area without an adult.
- No going in the water without permission from an adult. Ever.
- Always swim with a “water buddy,” never on your own.
- Don’t run around the pool or push others into the water.
- If you can’t swim, you must wear a safety float/life jacket.
- Always clear all toys away from the pool area when you’ve finished.
Finally, you can attend water safety events as a fun way to reinforce the message.
Speak with your child regularly about the importance of safety around water—little ones have short memories! Incorporate the discussions into story time with one of the many available pool safety books, such as Water Safety Book, available from Amazon.
You could also download the The Adventures of Splish and Splash app from the iTunes Store or Google Play. In this interactive game created by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Pool Safely campaign, Splash likes to have fun at the pool, but he doesn’t always know what is safe and what isn’t. It’s your child’s job to pick out Splash’s unsafe actions before moving on to the next level. This free app has predominantly excellent reviews and is aimed at children ages four and above.
The Pool Safety Campaign also created this fun video entitled “The Pool Safety Song,” which has a catchy tune and is a fun way to engage your children—especially as you prepare for a pool party with their friends.
No matter how well-behaved our kids are, no matter how much we have talked to them about something, no matter how closely we watch them, on occasion we may lose focus or slip up. Because all of the rules and talks in the world might not stop a child from wandering into a pool area, your next line of defense is a pool fence.
There are many options for pool fences, and, depending on where you live, a number of local or state regulations, which you can check on the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s website. The advice below is for everyone as a basic minimum, but you should always check your local regulations before installing a fence.
The best option is to install a four-sided isolation fence around your pool. If this is not possible, then a fence with the house acting as the fourth side (often referred to as a perimeter fence) is okay but must be backed up with door alarms (see below). For all fences, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines:
- The top of the fence should be at least 48 inches above the ground, but the higher the better.
- There should be no handholds or footholds—the fence should be climb resistant.
- Bars in the fence should be less than four inches apart to prevent a child from squeezing between them.
- The bottom of the fence should be no more than two inches from the ground to prevent a child squeezing under it.
- The gate in the fence should open outwards and be self latching.
- The latch should be as high up as possible to keep it out of reach of little fingers.
There are no specific recommendations for fencing materials, so it is a matter of personal choice. Many people prefer metal fences because they require less maintenance, but as long as the fence meets the structural requirements, you can use any material you like.
My favorite and the one I would recommend to someone looking for a pool fence is the Life Saver Pool Fence. This mesh fence with aluminium supports meets all of the safety standards and comes with a lifetime guarantee. It is easily removable by an adult for times when the kids aren’t around, is sectional so it fits all sizes and shapes of pool, and comes in a number of colors.
If you don’t have children in the house often and choose not to have a fence, you may wish to invest in a safety pool cover. Even if you do have a fence, a cover is a very good idea, especially if you have Houdini-like escape artist children who always manage to climb the unclimbable.
There are a number of different types of pool covers and nets. Some are designed primarily to keep your pool clean and are not suitable as safety devices. To be classed as a safety cover, the pool cover must hold a minimum of 485 pounds per five square feet.
Pool safety nets rely on the size of the net’s squares to provide protection. The squares are small enough to prevent a child from falling through but too big for a child to walk across or stand on. They are a popular choice for people with irregular-shaped pools, which may be difficult to cover with other options.
KatchaKid pool safety nets are made from high-quality materials and have a unique tensioning system that allows you to adjust the net to your needs. Certified technicians have to install the net, but it comes with an “EZ-OFF” storage roller, allowing an adult to remove and replace it quickly and easily. Each net is custom made, so you have to contact the company for pricing details.
If you decide to go with a safety cover instead of a net, you have a choice between solid or mesh covers.
Solid covers will keep your pool clean, and if they hold 485 pounds per 5 square feet, they will prevent a child or pet from sinking into the water. However, they are not the best option for areas that have heavy rain or snowfall.
If you decide a solid cover is right for you, GLI Pool Products make a popular solid cover that has a 15-year warranty and is strong enough to withstand puncturing from falling tree branches, stray animals, or deer hooves.
Water can accumulate on the surface of a solid cover, creating a puddle of water that sags and presents a drowning hazard for young children. To address this problem, you can purchase a cover pump, which will automatically detect water on the surface and clear it away before it becomes a hazard.
We would recommend the Wayne WAPC250 (available on Amazon), the highest-rated pump on Amazon and Swim University’s top-rated pool pump. It includes several unique features:
- iSwitch technology that turns pump on and off by sensing the presence of water
- Energy efficient, high-flow, oil-free pump
- Automatic freeze protection within the iSwitch technology to prevent pump damage
- 25-foot “pull to shore” rope included to help position the pump on the pool cover
Mesh covers allow rain and snow to drain through the surface, preventing the creation of puddles. They also allow debris to blow off of the cover surface, which makes them suitable for long-term use, like when a pool is covered for the winter.
Loop-Loc manufactures mesh safety covers (available on Amazon) that exceed the American Society of Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) safety standards for pool covers. The products are strong enough to take the weight of an elephant and come in a number of colors to suit your poolside decor. Loop-Loc also has a wide range of stock sizes and shapes, which makes it a more affordable option for those with larger pools who may otherwise have to purchase a custom cover.
Nets and mesh or solid covers must be anchored to a deck to hold them taut. Because they are held down with straps, covers usually need at least two feet of decking around the pool to provide enough room for the straps and anchor points.
There are a number of alarms that are intended specifically for pools or as general water safety devices. These alarms can be broken down into four categories:
- Gate alarms
- Door and window alarms
- Pool alarms
- Submersion or wearable alarms
These alarms are, as the name suggests, designed to be mounted on your pool fence gate. The battery-powered alarms are activated when the gate opens. Gate alarms are also equipped with an override button so adults can pass through the gate without activating the alarm.
We would recommend the SmartPool YardGuard YG18 (available on Amazon). It alarms with no delay when the gate opens, and the main unit, which is located outside of the gate, requires a four-digit pass code to allow entry—a valuable extra layer of safety not found on other gates. It also has a second reset button that can be placed inside the gate to allow adults to leave the pool enclosure without sounding the alarm.
Door and window alarms
All doors to the pool area should have an audible alarm that is activated when the door opens, and it’s advisable to alarm windows as well. A locked door alone is little deterrent to a curious child determined to get outside and explore.
Pool safety door and window alarms are generally battery powered, easily installed, and can be turned on and off using a key. Some of the more sophisticated alarms can be set so they only sound if someone under a particular height passes through the door.
My favorite is the TECHKO Safe Pool Alarm (available on Amazon) because it has two magnetic sensors, allowing you to monitor your door and a screen door at the same entrance. It also has two bypass buttons—one for inside so you don’t sound the alarm every time you go out and one for outside so you can press it and not set the alarm off when you go back into the house. The buttons are set high enough to be out of reach of children. It costs around $24.99 and is available from Home Depot or Amazon.
Pool alarms can be split into two categories: floating or wave sensors and passive infrared motion detectors.
Floating or wave sensors
This type of alarm is affixed to the side of the pool or floats on the surface of the water and is triggered when it senses water displacement caused by an object falling into the pool. When the sensor picks up this movement, it sends a signal to a remote receiver, which then emits an 85-decibel or louder alarm.
Depending on the particular alarm model you choose, the receiver can be placed in the home or carried by an adult. The alarms are generally battery powered and very portable, and you can adjust them for sensitivity, turn them off while you swim, and use them in conjunction with a pool cover and other kinds of alarms.
My recommendation would be the PoolGuard PGRM-2 model (available on Amazon). It meets all safety legislation, is a reasonably priced $260, and is simple to install.
Passive Infrared Motion Detectors (PIRs)
Easy to use and affordable, a PIR sensor detects both motion and heat at the same time. The main advantage of using these sensors is that they reduce false alarms caused by inanimate objects such as a tree limb moving or something being blown by the wind.
The detectors are battery powered, easily mounted, and emit an 85-decibel or higher alarm when triggered. With their wide range of coverage, they can also be used as an intruder alarm. There are two kinds of PIR sensor: pool mounted or fence/wall mounted. Both kinds use the same technology, and the only difference is where you would prefer to place them.
For a pool alarm that has the best of both options, my choice would be the Pooleye Inground Pool Alarm (available on Amazon). This alarm boasts a passive infrared motion detector range of 180 degrees and up to 50 feet. If the alarm is activated, the voice announcements tell you to check the pool, and then its 120-decibel siren is activated and impossible to miss when it sounds.
Finally, we come to wearable alarms.
Designed primarily for children, they consist of a wrist or necklace sensor that sets off an alarm as soon as it gets wet. The alarm sounds on both the sensor and the receiver, which can be placed in the home or carried by an adult.
Some of the more sophisticated systems, like the iSwimband we featured in the past, are two tiered and provide a version for swimmers that alerts you if they have been submerged for a prolonged length of time.
As none of the hardware for these alarms needs to be mounted either in the pool or on the pool perimeter, they can be taken with you to a friend’s house, to the lake, or to the beach. You can expand the system to monitor multiple wristbands, so you could use them at a party on the beach or by the pool. This would be a useful addition to other safety measures to monitor small children who should not be in the water, but it would not be helpful if your child is allowed in and out of the pool.
The disadvantage to this system is that your child must be wearing the wristband all of the time. It won’t, for example, be of any use if your child sneaks out of bed in the morning and gets into the pool. In addition, at around $60 each, the cost becomes prohibitive if you have to purchase multiple wristbands.
However, for one or two children, especially when visiting a friend or relative with a pool, Safety Turtle (available on Amazon) would be our alarm of choice. If the Turtle wristband gets wet, the base immediately sounds an alarm, alerting you that the child is in or by the pool. If your child is sitting at the side of the pool just splashing, that is enough to alert you.
All of the alarms mentioned above work independently of any smart home or home security system. In the case of door alarms, you could place an alarm from your existing system on any access points to the pool. You could also have motion sensor alarms and floodlights trained on the pool area. The drawback of this approach is that your system would have to be armed at all times to ensure you are appropriately protected, which isn’t always practical.
Some of the deaths and injuries recorded as drownings are actually caused by a child being trapped by the suction of a pool drain. To prevent this from happening, you should install a pool safety drain cover. Drain safety covers prevent hair being entangled or the suction of the drain holding a child under the water.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VGB) is named after a child who drowned due to such a suction entrapment. Virginia was seven years old and a member of her community swim and dive team, but the suction from the drain that trapped her was so strong it took two grown men to pull her off the drain and out of the water. The act requires that all public pools and spas must have drain grates or covers that meet specific standards, but it does not cover home pools.
We recommend that all drains and grates in your home pool be covered and that children are told not to play with or around drains or suction outlets. Hayward manufactures VGB-compliant covers of all shapes and sizes for home pools. By visiting their website, you can choose the size and shape you require and find a local dealer.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes accidents can still happen. Even with excellent supervision, pool rules, strong swimmers, and well-alarmed pools, there’s still a risk that a child can get into trouble.
In this case, quick and decisive action may make the difference between life and death. You should have the knowledge of how to deal with such an emergency, the equipment you need, and practice in using the equipment.
Everyone around the pool should know what to do in an emergency, where the equipment is, and who to call for help.
At least one, and preferably every adult around the pool, should learn CPR. It is a valuable life skill for many situations, and even your children can learn the basics—although they are unlikely to have the strength to deliver effective CPR.
Check the American Heart Association website for classes near you or to buy a CPR kit. These kits come with everything you need to learn CPR in your own home. You can also watch the video below to help learn the basics.
To ensure everyone has the appropriate knowledge and skills, you could make it a family tradition to run an emergency drill every year before the pool cover comes off. This way everyone will know just what to do in an emergency, either at home or at someone else’s pool.
First and foremost, you should have a working telephone within reach at all times. No matter how well-equipped and well-trained you are, call emergency services as soon as possible in the event of an accident. A good tip is to teach all of your children how to dial 911 and get help calmly. They can call while you perform CPR.
Basic safety equipment for the pool should include the following:
- Lifesaver rings to throw out to a swimmer in trouble. We recommend the highly rated Cal June US Coast Guard-approved ring buoy (available on Amazon).
- A shepherd’s crook to hook in someone who is unconscious or unable to hold onto a ring. The Ocean Blue lifeguard pool hook is a popular option available on Amazon.
- A safety throw rope is a useful alternative to the lifesaver rings, and an excellent, lightweight option can be purchased from Fox 40 on Amazon. This one is so light, a child could use it.
- A flashlight in case an incident should happen after dark. Waterproof flashlights are a good option as it doesn’t matter if they accidently fall into the water. This LED waterproof flashlight is a good choice and costs $15.50.
- A whistle to alert everyone where you are and that there is an emergency. The Fox 40 safety whistle (available on Amazon) is waterproof and can be seen easily.
- A first aid kit. This mini first aid kit is available from for $25.26. It comes in a waterproof, hard plastic case and can be mounted to the wall.
Dive into safety today
Even the strongest of swimmers can get into trouble and drown. All children should learn to swim, but that is no guarantee they will always be safe in and around the water. Sit down now and plan your next steps to make your time in and around the water as safe as it can be.
Let us know about your experiences in the water with children. How do you keep your family safe around the pool, and which products would you recommend to other families?