The Complete Guide to Pool Safety

By Kealia Reynolds
Photo by Etienne Girardet

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of 390 deaths each year are attributed to drowning in a swimming pool or at-home spa. What’s even more: according to the CDC, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of one and four.

Understanding pool safety and equipping your backyard pool and spa with the proper equipment can help protect children and adult swimmers and make swimming a more enjoyable experience for everybody. Here’s a complete guide to pool safety.

General pool safety tips

  1. Educate yourself (and your family) on water safety and ensure everyone knows how to respond to aquatic emergencies. The American Red Cross offers CPR certification courses and Aquatics & Water Safety Certification Programs that give you the skills to aid pool-goers in times of crisis. There’s also a Home Pool Essentials course (jointly developed by the American Red Cross and National Swimming Pool Foundation) to teach home pool owners the basics of pool and hot tub maintenance, along with strategies for creating a safer pool environment.
  2. Set ground rules for pool use. Talk to your kids about when and under what circumstances they are allowed in or even near the pool area.
  3. Ensure everyone in the home knows how to swim well by enrolling in age-appropriate water orientations and swimming lessons.
  4. Secure your pool with appropriate barriers and pool safety equipment like fencing, nets, alarms, and covers to prevent small children from entering the pool area and falling into the water.
  5. Make sure your lawn furniture is far enough from pool fencing to prevent small children from gaining an easy boost over the fence.
  6. Keep safety instruments like a Shepherd’s Hook, lifesaver, and first aid kit in the pool area in case of emergencies.
  7. Check the water depth and mark it. You don’t want to get hurt diving into a pool that’s too shallow. Mark water depths conspicuously and use a safety float to mark where the pool floor starts to get deeper.
  8. Complete regular maintenance on your pool or hot tub: Regularly test and adjust the chemical levels to minimize the risk of earaches, rashes, or more serious diseases. We recommend using a professional from the best home warranty companies for pool coverage—Choice Home Warranty and American Home Shield are both great options. Make sure all electrical equipment is installed by a licensed electrician and is in accordance with safety codes (keep electrical appliances out of the pool area to avoid electrical shock). Make sure your drain covers are compliant with local safety codes and ensure that all sharp edges and protruding bolts in the pool area are covered before pool use.

Pool safety tips: before entering the pool

  1. Always apply sunscreen before entering the pool to prevent a severe sunburn. Even on cloudy days, you’re still getting up to 80% of the sun’s harsh effects. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  2. Never swim after drinking alcoholic beverages, eating, or taking medications. Wait at least 30 minutes before entering the water.
  3. Ensure that all rescue equipment is in working order and post CPR instructions and procedures near the pool area.
  4. Use non-slip materials on the pool deck, diving board, and pool ladders. Pool ladders should have handrails on both sides and be small enough for a child to grasp.
  5. Verify that all people using the pool can swim well.
  6. Establish rules and safe behaviors (i.e. no diving, always swim with a buddy, always walk around the pool perimeter, etc.)

Pool safety tips: when the pool is in use

  1. Keep children under active supervision at all times and never assume someone else is watching a child in the pool area. Appoint a designated watcher to monitor children whenever they’re in or around the pool. Even if you step away for just a moment, appoint a watcher.
  2. Don’t supervise while distracted. Make sure the “watcher” is not distracted by their phone or ready to take a nap.
  3. Keep children away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings to avoid getting their hair or limbs stuck.

Pool safety tips: post-pool

  1. Don’t leave objects in the pool that could attract a child into the pool or pool area. Pull out all flotation devices and inflatables after every pool use.
  2. Never leave a pool area gate open or unlocked.
Photo by Timothy Meinberg

Pool safety equipment

Whether you’re protecting young children or older adults, keeping your pool up to date with the latest safety devices is important. Note that all safety barriers are just deterrents and children should always be supervised by an adult when in the pool. Here are a few pool safety products worth considering.

Pool fences

Pool fences are one of the most common ways to ensure pool safety. Permanent and temporary (removable) pool fences can be bought at big box or home improvement stores.

  • Four-sided isolation fences—Four-sided isolation fencing completely surrounds the pool and prevents direct access from the house or yard, acting as a barrier to prevent children from accessing the pool. These fences should be at least four feet high and equipped with self-closing and self-latching gates.
  • Removable pool fencing—Made of mesh, this is a popular choice for pool owners. It’s left in place when children have the potential to access the swimming pool, but can be removed when adults are present. Its transparent nature allows you to have a clear view of the pool at all times—the only drawback is that it may not meet compliance codes for backyard safety in all areas. A pool professional can provide this information for your specific area.
  • Perimeter fences—This type of fencing encloses a backyard pool but allows access through the house. If you choose to install perimeter fencing, consider adding an alarm on the back door in case a small child gains access to the pool area without adult supervision.
  • Steel fences—Similar to aluminum fences, steel fences are heavier and stronger. Choose a steel fence with a high-quality coating that will protect your fence from rust.
  • Wood fences—Though less expensive when compared to aluminum and steel fencing, wood fencing requires more maintenance like periodic painting and staining.
  • Chain link fences—These are extremely affordable and low maintenance. Made from galvanized steel tubing and steel wire mesh, chain link fences are strong and secure.
  • Vinyl fences—This attractive, low-maintenance fencing material is slightly more expensive than wood but has a longer lifespan and doesn’t require periodic staining or painting.

We recommend the Protect-A-Child pool fence: it has a strong, unbreakable design and features self-closing gates that keep your pool fence closed and locked.

For above ground pools, install sturdy guard rails around the pool deck. Look for rolled rims on the metal shell to ensure they don’t present a sharp edge. The access ladder should be sturdy and swing up to prevent children from unauthorized entry.

Pool safety nets

Pool safety nets prevent children from falling into the pool, maximize backyard space, and preserve the ambience of the pool area. They are recommended for small or confined pool areas. When looking for a pool safety net, take note of the size of the pool net’s squares—these should be small enough to prevent children from falling through but big enough to prevent walking and standing on the net.

We recommend the Water Warden WWN1836 Pool Safety Net: This custom-fitted net safeguards children and pets from exposed water and pool access. It’s available in multiple sizes for round and rectangular pools.

Safety pool covers

A safety pool cover should hold a minimum of 485 pounds per five square feet. Pool covers come in two varieties—mesh and solid. Both types of safety pool covers are anchored to a deck with straps that pull the cover taut over the pool; the straps usually attach to stainless steel springs and are anchored to recessed brackets in a deck surface.

  • Mesh safety pool cover—Designed for long-term use, mesh safety pool covers require little maintenance and provide great drainage during heavy bouts of rain or snowfall. They typically cost $200–$600 less than solid safety pool covers and can be taken on and off by one person. The only downside to a mesh safety pool cover is more pool cleaning in the spring. A mesh-covered pool will likely need a few days of vacuuming, brushing, and filtering before it’s ready for the new season.
  • Solid safety pool cover—Solid pool covers keep water out of the pool, keeping it much cleaner and requiring little upkeep in the spring. However, they may not be best for areas that receive heavy rain or snowfall because the collected water can cause the cover to sag, presenting a hazard to small children and pets.

Pool alarms

Pool alarms are great at signaling a disturbance in the pool and can alert you if a child is entering the pool area. Remember that pool alarms are just one tool to aid in pool safety and parental guidance is the best way to avoid injuries and other accidents.

  • Gate alarms—Mounted directly on your pool’s gate, these battery-powered alarms activate whenever the gate is opened. There’s typically an override button that can be pressed by an adult to allow children to pass through the gate without sounding the alarm. We recommend the PoolGuard Pool Door and Gate Alarm: It complies with building codes and is extremely easy to install. It also comes equipped with a low battery indicator that will audibly alert you when your battery is getting low.
  • Perimeter alarms—These alarms use laser or infrared light, forming an unbroken beam of light around the swimming pool perimeter. When someone enters the perimeter, and breaks the beam, an alarm sounds.
  • Wearable alarms—Wearable alarms, or wrist alarms, can be worn around your child’s wrist and used in the pool or hot tub. When the alarm is immersed in water, it immediately activates. We recommend the Safety Turtle 2.0 Pool Alarm Child Kit: It comes with a “Turtle” wristband for your child to wear, a base alarm for the house, and a USB cord/wall adapter.
  • Wave sensors—Floating wave sensors are mounted on the edge of the pool (or in the pool) and sense water displacement when an object weighing more than fifteen pounds enters the pool. When this happens, a signal (an alarm of approximately 85 decibels) is sent to a remote receiver which is in the home or carried by an adult.

Anti-entrapment equipment

Suction entrapment occurs when a swimmer gets pulled down by the suction of a pool or hot tub drain. If this happens, the victim can get their hair, limbs, or other body parts trapped and pulled toward the drain. A safety vacuum release system (SVRS) is an automatic suction force release system that disables a pool pump’s suction ability to free a body or object from the suction outlet. Once installed (typically by a professional), an SVRS requires little to no maintenance.

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