Q: Who is this water safety guide geared towards?


  • The CAST Water Safety Foundation specializes in swim competency and water safety strategies for families of children ages 5 and younger. 
  • Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 5-9.
  • Water safety strategies must change and evolve as your child grows. Like all aspects of child development, we must focus on different age-appropriate strategies. Below you will find  examples and recommendations focused on children ages 5 and younger. 
  • If you need to create a water safety strategy for children ages 6 and up, or adults, please visit our partners at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

Q: When is it appropriate for my child to wear a life jacket and which life jackets are best? 


  • Wear a life vest anytime that your child is near or around open water, such as a lake or ocean, and especially when conditions are treacherous. It is also safest to wear life jackets whenever your child is in a situation where they would be in danger if they fell or jumped into any pool or body of water alone.
  • Life jackets must be properly fitted to each child based on their weight. 
  • According to the NDPA, “If a flotation device is used as a layer of protection, it should be a USCG approved flotation device that is tested and meets accepted industry standards. Not all devices sold by retailers are tested and approved flotation devices. Devices that are not tested and approved cannot be considered a safe layer of protection and should not be part of a family’s water safety plan.” 
  • Life jackets were not designed to be used as “learn-to-swim” aids or to enable free time and recklessness in  a swimming pool setting. Check out CAST’s Life Jacket Guide.
  • Outnumbered by non-swimmers on a hot summer day? Choose safe water play. Check out CAST’s Safe Water Play Guide.

Q: What is safe water play and when should I choose this over swimming?


  • Safe water play is any activity where the child can touch and enjoy water, but not be fully submerged. These activities include water tables, slip ’n slides, sprinklers, sponge games, and water squirters. 
  • Safe water play activities should be chosen anytime adults are outnumbered or unable to provide a 1:1 ratio in water, or cannot supervise within arm’s reach for each non-swimmer or developing swimmer. 
  • Check out CAST’s Safe Water Play Guide.

Q: How can I keep my child safe around water?


  • Our partners at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance recognize five layers of protection for safe swimming. 
    • Barriers and alarms
      • If you or someone you know has a pool at home, it is important to make sure that the pool is gated with a four-sided fence. Pool safety covers and alarms can help to keep children from slipping away to the pool when it is not swim time. 
    • Supervision
      • Designate a competent and capable adult to be the “water guardian” while children are in or around water. With children who are non-swimmers or are still developing their skills, maintain a 1:1 adult to swimmer ratio, and stay within arm’s reach.
    • Water competency 
      • Every child and adult should be equipped with the skills to protect themselves in water.
      • At CAST we encourage self-rescue skills for all children ages 1 and up. Learn more about self-rescue swimming
    •  Use a properly fitted US Coast Guard Approved life jacket when appropriate.
      • Life vests are recommended any time that children are in or near open bodies of water such as lakes, rivers & oceans. To learn the appropriate time and place to wear a life jacket, check out CAST’s Life Jacket Guide.
    • Emergency preparation. 
      • Consider taking a CPR class and learning basic water rescue skills. See options here.

Q: My child has completed self-rescue swimming lessons. Why do I need to keep watching them when they swim?


No child is “drown proof.” Drowning can happen in less than a minute and while your child might be fully skilled in self-rescue swimming, accidents can still happen. A designated water guardian should be constantly supervising children in the water. It is also important to consider all 5 layers of protection when children are in or around the water. See the 5 layers of protection listed above. 

Q: How should I dress my child at swim time?

A: Choose brightly colored swimwear that stands out from the water so that children can be easily spotted and supervised when in and around the water. Think bright orange, pink, yellow, and neon green.

Q: Is it safe to allow others to watch my child swim?

A: Use your discretion when choosing a designated water guardian. 

Supervising adults must be:

  • strong swimmers themselves
  • familiar with your family’s water safety strategies and routines
  • competent and capable of giving their undivided attention to your child
  • trained in emergency response procedures

Q: How do I keep my child safe at bath time?

A: Bathtub drownings are most common in children one and under, but it can happen at any age.

  • Children must be supervised at all times while in and around the bathtub. 
  • Stay within arm’s reach, and keep your child within your line of vision. 
  • Keep water levels low.
  • Check the temperature of the water before placing your child in the bath. 
  • Continue to supervise your child at all times, even when the tub is filling or draining.

Q: How do I keep older children safe in and around the water:

A: Please visit our partners at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance for a full library of water safety resources pertaining to all age children and adults.


Q: How do I keep my child safe around open or hazardous water?

A: Children of all ages must wear life jackets in and around open water. Read more here.

For more information on life jackets and other water conditions to be prepared for, please visit our partners at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.