How do I keep my kids safe at the pool?

Pool Safety Equipment
Every pool should have a life preserver nearby.
Every pool should have a life preserver nearby.

Safety equipment is most important pool accessory you can buy. Some of those listed below are required by state and local law. Definitions of what's acceptable vary, however; homeowners should check with building officials to make sure they're in compliance.

  • Pool cover -- Coverings are of two basic types: solid vinyl sheets and polypropylene mesh. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Both should be equipped with durable metal fittings. Look for coverings that meet performance standards set by ASTM International, an organization that sets criteria for materials and products.
  • Fences and gates -- Close off the pool's open sides with fences at least 4 feet (1.23 meters) high. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching, with the latch out of a child's reach. Gates that open outward (away from the pool, toward the unrestricted area) are a particular challenge for toddlers, who try to open doors by pushing rather than pulling.
  • Alarms -- Gates and doors with access to the pool should be equipped with alarms. The pool itself can be outfitted as well. Choose a pool alarm that's triggered by subsurface activity, not merely surface waves, which can be caused by the wind.
  • Flotation devices -- This includes both a throwable life preserver and a personal flotation device (PFD), such as a vest or jacket. Special features on PFDs for young children include a head support to keep their face above the water's surface and a handle for hoisting them out of the pool. Choose one that fits the child's weight range. Also, check that it's approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. An alternative is a flotation or swimming aid, a foam-padded suit designed to improve stability and buoyancy as children learn to swim. These aren't PFDs, however. Inflatable rafts and toys or water wings aren't reliable, either, because they can deflate or slip away.
  • Shepherd's crook -- Safety experts recommend "touch" supervision, having an adult within reach of a child at all times. When that's not possible, this simple device, a metal or plastic semicircular loop that attaches to a long pole, can be a lifesaver.

Even if your own pool is accident-resistant, children may still encounter dangerous swimming situations. Read the next page for rules that help kids watch out for themselves and their friends.