In the drowning prevention community, we dread hearing the other F-word: floaties. These seemingly innocuous devices give responsible parents a false sense of security with the assumption that the inflatables will keep their kids safe and help teach them to swim. But in practice, consistent floatie use increases the risks of accidental drowning.

With U.S. drowning deaths on the rise for the first time in decades, the silent contributor to America’s childhood drowning crisis needs to be addressed.

Kids — and parents — love floaties because they allow children to enter and navigate the water without direct help. For evidence, consider the army of floatie-equipped toddlers fearlessly cannonballing into the deep end of their local pools, often despite not knowing how to swim.

The problems with this all-too-common summer scene are twofold.

First, floaties create a false sense of security for kids and their parents. Children who regularly use the floatation aids can fall under the dangerous illusion they know how to swim. Meanwhile, caregivers wrongly assume their children are safe and require less supervision.

Second, rather than floating horizontally, inflatable armbands place children in a vertical configuration known in the water-safety world as the “drowning position.” To illustrate, let’s revisit our cannonballing kiddo. After leaping into the pool, his head will dip briefly under water before popping back above the surface. He’ll then use his legs to tread water, likely in a “climbing stairs” motion.


Remove the floaties from the equation, and this vertical orientation would quickly send him to the bottom of the pool. His corresponding leg movement would only speed up the process and prevent him from rising.

Together, the combination of false confidence and muscle memory can be catastrophic, if not fatal.

In some tragic cases, a child accustomed to using floaties will accidentally fall into a body of water and automatically assume their usual drowning position, without the know-how to swim their way to the surface. In others, an unsupervised child — confident in their ability to swim — will jump in a pool without floaties.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this overreliance on floaties is a meaningful factor in the childhood drowning crisis, which remains the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4. The dangers of floaties are pervasive enough to be common knowledge among swim instructors and drowning prevention advocates.

Like children, parents can’t afford a false sense of security: Nine out of 10 drowning deaths occur when a caregiver is supervising but not paying attention. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly in a matter of seconds — about how long it takes to fire off a quick text message or skim the page of a magazine.

A May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an overall increase in U.S. drowning deaths after decades of decline, including an almost 30% rise among children ages 1 to 4.


The findings are a sobering reminder that we can — and must — do better for our kids.

What can parents do? Consider enrolling your young children in a lifesaving learn-to-swim program. The United States Swim School Association has an online directory available to find a school near you. Research has shown that formal swim lessons can result in an 88% reduction in drowning risk for children ages 1 to 4, according to the National Institutes of Health. While there’s no “right” age to start, high-quality classes exist for babies, toddlers and children of all ages.

Vigilance is also crucial. Don’t rely on lifeguards or assume someone else will spot a potential crisis. Instead, designate an adult “water watcher” to keep a close eye on your kids.

With the summer season kicking into full gear, water safety is more important than ever. Parents should ditch the floaties and teach their kids the swimming basics.


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