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Health Advisory – Drowning Deaths on the Rise in the U.S.

Following decades of decline, drowning deaths are on the rise the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced in May (Vital Signs study).

Over 4,500 people died due to drowning each year from 2020–2022, 500 more per year compared to 2019.

Groups already at higher risk saw the greatest increases in drowning deaths: children 1-4 years old and adults 65 years and older of all races and ethnicities, as well as Black people of all ages.  In fact, drowning is the number one cause of death for children 1-4 years old in the United States.

While it is not certain what is causing the rise, public health experts are theorizing that the lockdowns and closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a part in the rising numbers.  Public pools were closed, lifeguards were no longer needed, and there were limited opportunities for swimming lessons.  When the pools reopened, we then faced shortages of trained lifeguards and swimming instructors.  This  exacerbated the deficit of swimming lessons.

swimlessonchildThese are alarming statistics.  However, prioritizing water safety and swimming lessons can save lives and improve this trend. Did you know that almost 40 million adults (15.4%) in the United States do not know how to swim and over half (54.7%) have never taken a swimming lesson?    We recommend the following tips this summer to help keep you and your family safe when near the water.

How to Reduce Drownings

  • Formal swimming lessons can begin as early as young as age 1, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Be attentive. Kids are incredibly quick, and a moment’s inattention is seen as a contributing factor in 72% of fatal drownings for children aged 0- 14, with almost 70% of drownings occurring during non-swim times.
  • Swimming at a beach where a lifeguard is on duty also reduces the chance of drowning. Statistics show that lifeguards perform 4,832 rescues for every 1 drowning. So don’t swim after hours.
  • Wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while boating reduces the risk of drowning by 50%.
  • Isolation pool fencing with self-closing and self-latching gates reduce a child’s chance of drowning by 83%.[1]
  • Learn CPR. Your CPR skills could save someone's life in the time it takes for paramedics to arrive. Many organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer CPR training courses, both online and in-person.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or other water activities. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, and coordination. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
  • Never swim alone. Always swim with a buddy. The buddy system is especially beneficial for people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions that increase their risk of drowning.
  • Take additional precautions for medical conditions and consider the effects of medications.

Additional Resources

  • S. National Water Safety Action Plan “Drowning is a preventable public health issue that, in the United States, has not received attention commensurate with its burden.” Provides an action plan to reduce the number of drownings in the U.S. and improve water safety. 
  • Full CDC article – “Drowning Deaths Rise in the United States.” May 14, 2024.
  • The YMCA is a nonprofit that focuses on strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. See their drowning prevention page for tips about how to be safe around water.


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