Child water safety

Swimming is an important part of a child’s development, offering strength, confidence and life-saving skills throughout their life. Being mindful of the dangers around water, including the potential for drowning, is an important skill as a parent or carer.

Pool safety


Drowning can happen within seconds and without a sound.

Children can drown in any source of water, including swimming pools, baths, spas, dams, rivers, creeks, garden ponds, water features or small buckets. Drowning is often very quick and silent. If children aren't supervised closely in or around water, a joyful day at the beach can quickly become an emergency situation. 

Drowning is still one of the main causes of death in children under the age of five so follow these five water safety tips to enjoy the water with your children. 

Fence the pool

Any pool that can be filled with 30cm of water or more must have pool fencing that complies with the law of your state or territory. This includes inflatable and portable pools. If you have an inflatable pool, bucket or other source of water, make sure you empty it after use and store it somewhere safe. 

Make sure there are no objects close to the fence or gate that children can climb on to get over the fence (for example, pot plants or outdoor furniture). 

See NSW Fair Trading for pool fencing requirements in NSW to see if your pool is compliant.


Shut the gate

Never leave your pool gate open and make sure the gate shuts every time you enter and exit the area. 

Gates should close automatically without having to push them closed. Self-closing and self-latching devices can be purchased from your local pool and hardware shops. 


Teach your kids to swim

Make sure your child is familiar with water by spending time with them in water or through swimming lessons. The more water awareness your child has, the better. Don’t rely on their skills alone though, even if you think they are a strong swimmer.

It is a good idea to teach your child to ask for permission b\and supervision before swimming.

First Lap vouchers are available to use towards the cost of swimming lessons for children aged 3 to 6 years who are not enrolled in school.


Supervision is the most important step you can take to keep your child safe in and around water. Don’t rely on floaties, pool noodles or other children to supervise a child in water. 

Young children will need your full attention in and around water. This includes not being distracted by mobile phones, household activities or conversations. Any distraction is dangerous and puts young children at risk around water. No task is worth risking your child's life for,

Below is a supervision guide only. If your child is not confident in the water, extra precautions and supervision strategies should be put into place. Minimum supervision considerations:

  • children 0-5 should have a proficient adult within arm's reach in and around any body of water
  • children 6-10 years old should be watched carefully by an adult with the ability to get in the water in the case of an emergency
  • children 11-16 years old should be watched by an adult also should learn to swim themselves.

Tip: If you are at an outdoor party or barbeque, allocate at least one parent or carer to be on water watch. They could wear a hat or armband so that everyone knows. 

Learn how to resuscitate

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving first aid technique that can be used if someone is not breathing properly or if their heart has stopped. 

In the case of a drowning, call Triple Zero (000) and start CPR. CPR involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth (rescue breaths) that help circulate blood and oxygen in the body. This can help keep the brain and vital organs alive. It's a skill that everyone should learn - you don't need to be a health professional to do it.

In Australia, the law requires you to have a CPR sign displayed near the pool. The sign must be in good condition and easily read from 3 metres away.

The knowledge and skills you learn may SAVE a LIFE. Remember, ANY attempt at CPR is better than no attempt.

Our free online CPR training modules for parents developed in partnership with clinicians from the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network aim to teach the steps involved in CPR for a babies (aged less than 12 months) and children (aged over one year). The steps can also be used on an adult.

See Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for children (under 12 months) and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for children (over 12 months) for more information. 

These fact sheets and modules do not replace accredited training courses for CPR or first aid.

If you're in NSW, register your pool or spa on the Swimming Pool Register. You can also find self-assessment checklists to see make sure your pool is compliant with regulations.

Swimming and flotation aids (floaties)

Swimming and flotation aids are designed to keep children afloat, in water. You might know these better as floaties. There are many different types of floaties available including:  

  • armbands 
  • rings that go around the waist, sometimes with a seat for younger children 
  • small boards that sit on the back, strapped around the waist 
  • vests that have padded floatie material around the arms and chest. 

Floaties can be used to help a child get familiar with being in water. They do not replace adult supervision and are not a life-saving device. 

Children must be supervised at all times when they are in or around bodies of water. This includes: 

  • pools 
  • bathtubs 
  • the beach 
  • rivers, lakes and ponds. 

See Pool Safety for more information.  

If you choose to use floatation aids for your children when they are swimming, it is recommended to also have periods of ‘floatie free’ time.  This is so they can get used to the feeling of their body weight and movement in the water, and practice basic swimming skills.

Parents and carers can support their child in getting familiar with water by:  

  • being in the water with your child, holding them or having them at arm’s reach   
  • enrolling them in formal swimming lessons.  

Formal swimming lesson

Participating in formal swimming lessons is associated with an 88% reduction in risk of drowning in children between the ages of 1 to 4.

Support in the water from floaties can give parents, carers and children a false sense of security and confidence in how good their child is in the water. Floaties are not a life-saving device and can sometimes stop your child’s body from moving naturally in the water. This can cause issues when they are used too much or in place of learning how to swim. 

Other safety issues with floaties can include: 

  • deflating or popping during use  
  • pushing up over the mouth and face if not fitted well, causing suffocation 
  • slipping off in the water during rough play or if not fitted well  
  • tipping a child face down in the water 
  • stopping a child from being able to correct their position in the water. 

Tips for buying a floatie: 

  1. where possible, have your child try on different types of floaties on land to see how they feel and move 
  2. check that the floatie fits your child properly and is fastened securely 
  3. buy products that are age and weight-appropriate for your child, replacing as your child grows out of them 
  4. always read the instructions for use. 

Mandatory labels on swimming and flotation aids


Floaties are not the same as lifejackets or a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) that is used in emergencies.  

All children should wear a lifejacket in open water environments, even if they can swim. 

This includes activities like: 

  • boating, jet skiing or sailing 
  • using watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, paddle boards 
  • fishing, including rock fishing 

Other outdoor sources of water

It is also good to know the other potential risks around water sources. Rivers, dams and lakes often have submerged objects that are hidden hazards. 

Check for hazards before your child enters the water. If you are in a remote location, make sure you:

  • understand whether water is safe to swim in, for example dangerous animals such as crocodiles
  • have some form of communication
  • let someone know when you will be back home.  

For ocean safety or a day at the beach, you should:

  • know where the lifeguard tower is
  • swim only during staffed hours
  • swim between the flags at all time and with your children
  • understand the dangers of rips and large swell before entering the water.

Trained surf life savers have your safety as a priority. If you are asked by a trained surf lifesaver not to enter the water, get out of the water or move to a different spot - you should listen to their instructions.

Bath time

Bath time is a great way for babies and young children to learn water awareness. It is also often a bonding opportunity between parents and children or siblings as a nightly routine before bed. 

An evening bath is all about timing, it’s important to pick a time when your baby is awake, settled and not hungry. Evening bath routines can also work well as a reset for babies who are experiencing colic, purple crying, or witching hour.  

As primary carers, there is always a need to understand the major risks of injury when your child is in or near the bath. These include drowning and hot scalds. 

Supervision in the bath

All babies and children under the age of 8 years old must be supervised in even the smallest amount of water. Children can drown quickly, quietly and in just a few centimeters of water. 

Bath time safety tips

Preparing for the bath

  • Take everything you need, such as a towel, face washer, bath wash, clothes and nappy into the bathroom, so you can stay with your child for bath time
  • Prepare a non-slip bath mat
  • Only run enough water to wash and provide playtime. A good guide is roughly your child’s belly button height for children who can freely sit upright
  • Check the temperature with a thermometer, your wrist or your elbow before putting your child in bath water. It should not be hotter than 38°C . See Burns for more information.

During the bath

Accidents usually happen when the adult caregiver is distracted or leaves the room to attend to something else. Children can drown quickly, quietly and in just a few centimetres of water. 

Check out these safety tips:

  • always stay within arms’ reach of your child in the bath and never leave your child alone in the bath for any reason 
  • supervise your child at all times while they are in the bath
  • ignore distractions such as mobile phones or answering the door whilst your child is in the bath 
  • if choosing to add more water to the bath, make sure your child is out of the bath and away from the taps - this has a high risk of scalds even if you are turning the cold taps on. See Burns for more information
  • don't rely on older siblings or teenagers to supervise younger children during bath time
  • if you use a baby bath aid, you will still need to supervise and keep your child within arm’s reach. Baby bath aids are not recommended for use and are not seen as a safe device.

After the bath

  • Drain the bath as soon as you have finished - bath time for a baby or young child shouldn’t need more than 10 minutes.

Bathing newborns

For newborns, less is more. Babies don’t need a bath every day. 

It can be better to have a bath every 2-3 days to make sure your newborn's skin does not dry out. Unless your baby gets dirty with saliva, vomit, poo or wee (which is very likely in the early months), you can take a more relaxed approach on the days in between. Use a warm, wet washcloth to wipe your baby’s face, neck, hands, and bottom, in that order. 

Some babies enjoy having a bath every day, so it’s important to work out what is best for your family. 

Having fun with bathtime

Once you’ve covered the basics of baby baths, it’s time to focus on having fun! Try some gentle movement, like swishing from side to side while maintaining eye contact. You can play music, sing, smile, or softly talk to create a warm and engaging atmosphere. 

Let your baby explore the water by bringing their hands together, kicking their legs, pushing their feet off the end of the bath, or handling safe bath toys like a rubber duck. These small movements help to promote sensory development and make bath time more enjoyable. 

Try some tummy time activities in the bath for a change of scenery. When they can hold their head up, try laying your baby on their tummy on top of the bath water, with their head well supported above the surface. This can be a fun way for them to experience a change of scenery. 

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024