Drownings are quick, silent and preventable

The warm days have just started, and families are preparing to enjoy a swim in pools, lakes or water parks. To prevent these events from taking a wrong turn, the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) Trauma Centre issues this important alert about water safety.

A 4-year-old boy drowned in Saint-Lambert and a 5-year-old child nearly drowned in Repentigny during the weekend, reminding us that anyone can be at risk.

Drowning prevention requires a multifaceted approach, including:

  • Constant adult supervision: close, undistracted and attentive surveillance of children around any body of water, all eyes on the water at all times. This means no phones, screens, books, and no chatting with neighbours or drinking alcohol. The supervising adult should be within arm’s reach of anyone with weak swimming skills;
  • Swimming lessons are encouraged;
  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training is recommended;
  • Never swim alone, regardless of age;
  • Know the swimming skill level of those in your pool.

MCH experts* emphasize the following life-saving measures to prevent drowning:

  • Ensure there is no direct access to the pool from the house or patio;
  • Install adequate fencing around the pool (4-sided, self-locking fence of at least 1.2 meter high);
  • Close and lock the gate to the pool when not in use;
  • When there is direct access to a lake, make sure doors remain locked at all times to prevent a child from wandering into the water;
  • Ensure that children are properly supervised when going on a field trip to a pool, lake or water park;
  • Teach children to always swim with a buddy;
  • Make sure to swim in an area that matches swimming ability.

Every year in Canada, approximately 60 children under the age of 14 drown; another 140 are hospitalized after a near-drowning. According to the Canadian Red Cross, from year to year, drowning is the first or second leading cause of death for children between 1 and 4 years old, and the fourth leading cause of death in children under the age of 14.

Over 50 percent of children who drown do so in backyard pools (Parachute Canada, 2021). Eighty-five percent of drowning deaths in young children are due to inadequate supervision (Lifesaving Society, 2020). In 2020, tragically, during the first week of July, the Montreal Children’s Hospital Emergency Department treated three children under the age of 5 who lost their lives drowning in backyard pools.

The government recently amended the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, requiring all owners of swimming pools in Quebec to install 4-sided fencing with automatic locking gates and to ensure there is no direct access from the home to the pool. Even though the government has given owners of older pools a grace period until 2023 to conform to the new rules, timely action is recommended.

Many families eager to enjoy the summer months have installed a pool in their backyard. The MCH Trauma Centre urges all citizens, however, to follow the drowning prevention recommendations above and not let a beautiful day by the water end in a preventable, life-altering tragic event.

For more on how to prevent drowning deaths this summer, download the Children’s info sheet at: https://www.thechildren.com/health-info/trauma/water-activities

To listen to MCH’s prevention campaign, click here:


* Debbie Friedman, MCH Trauma Director, Dr. Laurie Plotnick, Emergency Department Medical Director, Liane Fransblow, Trauma Coordinator, Glenn Keays, Coordinator of Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, and Dr. Daniel Brody, Emergency Medicine Physician.