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Nonfatal and Fatal Drownings in Recreational Water Sites— United States, 2001–2002

During 2001–2002, an estimated 4,174 persons on average per year were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments (EDs) for nonfatal unintentional drowning injuries in recreational water settings. About 53% required hospitalization or transfer for specialized care. In 2001, 3,372 persons suffered fatal unintentional drownings in recreational settings. Nonfatal and fatal injury rates were highest for children ages 4 years and younger and for males of all ages. To reduce drownings, environmental protections (e.g., isolation pool-fences and lifeguards) should be adopted; alcohol use should be avoided while swimming, boating, water skiing, or supervising children; and all participants, caregivers, and supervisors should know water-safety skills and be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Gilchrist J, Gotsch K. Nonfatal and Fatal Drownings in Recreational Water Settings— United States, 2001–2002. MMWR 2004;53(21);447-52.

Injury Control and Risk Survey: Assessment of Self-reported Swimming Ability

CDC Injury Center researchers analyzed data collected during the first Injury Control and Risk Survey to assess how well American adults reported they could swim. Younger respondents reported greater swimming ability than older respondents, and self-reported ability increased with level of education. Among racial groups, African Americans reported the most limited swimming ability. Men of all ages, races, and educational levels consistently reported greater swimming ability than women. Men also have much higher drowning rates. These data will help public health practitioners identify groups at greater risk for drowning and better target water safety messages and swimming education efforts.

Gilchrist J, Sacks JJ, Branche CM. Self-reported swimming ability in U.S. adults, 1994. Public Health Rep 2000;115(2–3):110–1.

Injuries from boat propellers highlight the need for education

A CDC study revealed that severe boat propeller-related injuries may be more common than previously reported. These injuries can result in permanent scarring, significant blood loss, broken bones, amputation, or death. CDC’s Injury Center scientists worked with Texas public health professionals and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to characterize injuries from boat propellers in that state. During the three-month study of four Texas lakes, researchers identified 13 people who had been injured by boat propellers. Three of them died; those non-fatally injured sustained lacerations and broken bones. Study findings underscore a need to increase public awareness of safety measures and to improve tracking of such injuries.

CDC also published a Report to Congress on the topic of boat propeller safety in the summer of 1993.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Boat propeller-related injuries—Texas, 1997. MMWR [publication online] 1998 [accessed 2004 Feb 24];47(17):354. Available from: URL:

Lifeguard Effectiveness: A Report of the Working Group
Most drownings occur at unguarded sites, according to an October 2001 report by CDC’s Injury Center. This report assessed lifeguard services as a strategy for preventing drowning and water-related injuries. Data from 1988–1997 show more than three-quarters of drownings at U.S. Lifesaving Association (USLA) sites (mostly ocean beaches) occurred when beaches were unguarded. In contrast, the chance of drowning at a beach while it is being protected by lifeguards trained under USLA standards is less than 1 in 18 million. These findings underscore the importance of having trained lifeguards at all beaches where people swim. This report will help communities, local government officials, and owners of private water recreational areas make informed decisions about whether to begin, retain, or discontinue lifeguarding services.

Branche CM, Stewart S, editors. Lifeguard effectiveness: A report of the working group. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2001.


Three Tragic Seconds: A childhood drowning prevention program

CDC worked with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, CA, (CHOC) and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign to implement the Three Tragic Seconds program in two communities in Arizona and Florida. CHOC developed this multimedia educational program to teach parents about drowning prevention. In addition to appropriate supervision while children are in the water, the program stresses the need for multiple layers of protection (i.e., four-sided isolation fencing, pool alarms, door and gate locks, and door alarms) between small children and residential pools, or other water sites, to prevent inadvertent exposure. The National Safe Kids Campaign conducted a program evaluation of Three Tragic Seconds program during the summer of 2003. At the end of the program, many participants demonstrated an increased awareness about drowning risks and prevention measures around the home and the need for appropriate adult supervision of children when in or around the water. For many, the program also dispelled common myths surrounding water safety, including the inaccurate belief that air-filled toys are safety devices and the idea that swimming lessons are sufficient to prevent drowning in small children. These findings will guide future evaluations of educational interventions for childhood drownings

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Content Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
Page last modified: May 21, 2008