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Regional Center Staff
This Months Featured Article

Drowning Facts

Hundreds of people in California die every year from accidental drowning and many more suffer the effects from near-drowning incidents. Many of these deaths and incidents could have been prevented. Understanding basic facts about drowning may help prevent these tragic incidents.

Based upon the most recent statistics available from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, drowning is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in California.

Drowning is defined as death by suffocation as a result of submersion in a liquid medium (usually water). Near-drowning is the term used when a person recovers, at least temporarily, from a drowning incident.

Service coordinators should consider the individual risks that each consumer may have related to drowning. Such consideration should include the various settings involving water sources, including those in the home. Steps may then be taken to put into place any needed safeguards.

Most at Risk

  • For children ages 1 – 4, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death.
  • For children and young adults ages 5 – 24, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death.
  • 30% of all drowning deaths are children ages 0 – 14 years and 60% of these deaths are children ages 1 – 4.
  • 75% of the people who drown are male and 90% of those are in the 15 – 24 year old age bracket.


  • It is estimated that for every child who drowns, six receive emergency treatment for near-drowning or submersion injuries.
  • Of children surviving near-drowning incidents, up to 20% suffer severe and permanent disabilities.
  • The majority of children who survive a near-drowning incident are discovered within two minutes following submersion.

Where Drowning Incidents Occur

  • Infants are most likely to drown in bathtubs, buckets, and toilets. Children can drown in as little water as it takes to cover their nose and mouth.
  • Five-gallon buckets, such as those often used for household chores, toilets, diaper pails, and any other source of standing water in a home pose a hazard, especially for children 7 – 15 months of age who may topple in headfirst and then cannot free themselves.
  • Toddlers most often drown in residential swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas. Young children who drown in pools are usually last seen in the home and have been out of sight less than five minutes.
  • Older children and adolescents are most likely to drown in ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
  • Alcohol use is involved in 25 – 50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation activities.
  • Drowning rates for all age groups are three times higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
  • Childhood drowning in rural areas often occurs in non-pool settings, such as natural bodies of water and irrigation canals. Risk for drowning increases in muddy water of lakes, ponds, and rivers.
  • Nearly 75% of boating-related deaths are due to drowning and most people who drown were not wearing personal floatation devices.

How Quickly Drowning Occurs

  • Drowning usually occurs quickly. A child can lose consciousness within two minutes following submersion. Irreversible brain damage occurs after four to six minutes. The heart goes into an irregular rhythm before it stops beating.
  • The majority of children who survive are discovered within two minutes of submersion whereas most children who die are found after 10 minutes. Many who require CPR subsequently die or suffer serious brain injury.
  • An exception to this may occur with people who have been suddenly and rapidly submerged into ice-cold water. Some of these individuals have survived without any physical damage after being submerged for up to an hour.

Through the program planning process, each consumer’s planning team and the Service Coordinator should evaluate the risks a person may have during bathing as well as during water recreation activities whether at pools, beaches, lakes, etc. Special precautions that may be needed can be identified so that staff and others can provide any needed supports to the consumer to mitigate the risk of drowning. For basic prevention strategies, see the article for Service Providers at this website.

Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; National Safe Kids Campaign; National Safety Council.


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