Water watching – a key to a safe summer in the backyard pool

Topics: Manitoba
June 10, 2014

(Winnipeg, June 10, 2014) With Water Safety Week upon us, the Canadian Red Cross and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) want Manitobans to enjoy a fun and safe summer in their backyard pools.

On average, there are more than 22 deaths a year in Canada related to backyard pool drowning. In addition, for every death, four to five near-drowning incidents occur, requiring hospitalization and often resulting in brain damage. Young children left unattended without adult supervision are especially at risk of drowning, which is why pool owners and parents should prepare for a safe summer by planning ahead with the proper equipment, knowledge and by designating someone to be a water watcher.

“Having a designated water watcher is part of a having a safe pool,” said Red Cross provincial director, Manitoba, Shawn Feely. “A water watcher is an adult who has an item such as a hat or a lanyard, that clearly indicates they are responsible for watching the water and is prepared to provide help in case of an emergency when people are in or around the pool.”

“Children one to four years old have the highest risk of drowning, mostly from falling into the pool,” said Dr. Lynne Warda, medical director, with the WRHA’s IMPACT program. “A lack of adult supervision is a factor in 80 per cent of child drowning deaths in Canada, which is why having a designated water watcher is so important around private pools.”

Besides designating a water watcher, there are a number of items pool owners should have for safety. These items include proper fencing around the pool, equipment for pulling someone out of the water and clear pool rules.

“Another aspect to being prepared is having the water safety skills that the Red Cross Swim program can provide to individuals,” said Feely. The Red Cross Swim program is based on research as to why and how Canadians drown and is continuously updated to reflect the latest findings.

As part of Water Safety Week, the WRHA and the Red Cross are holding a contest over the next four weeks through the twitter account @RedCrossMB, calling on Manitobans to tweet pictures of their water watcher gear, with the hashtag #waterwatcher.


For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Jason Small
Communications Advisor
Canadian Red Cross, Manitoba
T: 204-982-7321 C: 204-223-9753
Melissa Hoft
Media Relations
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
T: 204-926-7868 C: 204-299-0152


Pool Safety Tips

  • Make sure children are always supervised by an adult – 80 per cent of fatalities nationwide involving children and backyard pools occurred when there was no adult supervision;
  • Children should never be left alone with another minor;
  • Lifejackets and personal floatation devices should be worn by weak swimmers, but they are not substitutes for supervision by a water watcher;
  • Establish pool rules. These can include: swim with a buddy, children must have an adult with them at all times, only dive in the deep end and no glass containers around the pool;
  • Have accessible reaching or throwing emergency equipment, a phone and first aid kit;
  • Build a fence that has a self-closing and self-latching gate and keep the gate closed with restricted access at all times.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs;
  • The best time to swim is during the daytime. If there is thunder or lightning, stay out of the pool;
  • Portable or inflatable pools should be emptied after each use or covered and locked;
  • Everyone should have some level of swimming training from the Red Cross to ensure greater water safety.

What is a Water Watcher?

A water watcher is an adult designated to constantly watch the pool when children are in or around it.
  • What does a water watcher need?
    • Something distinctive, such as a hat, a piece of clothing, or a lanyard, that indicates to everybody at the pool that he/she is the designated water watcher;
    • Knowledge of the safety rules that have been established for the pool;
    • Quick access to emergency equipment, such as water assists, shepherd’s hooks or other devices used to get a child out of the pool quickly;
    • A whistle for getting attention;
    • A first aid kit;
    • A working phone at the ready to use in case of an emergency.
  • What are the responsibilities of a water watcher?
    • The watcher must be constantly vigilant and always be watching the water. Most often, children drown in a pool when a caregiver is not paying attention, even for a second;
    • If there is an unsafe situation in the pool, they must quickly step in and remedy the problem;
    • Be prepared to get into the pool to help out someone who is in distress.
It also helps if the water watcher has first aid or water safety training.