Water-Related Injuriers: Fact Sheet Water-Related Injuriers: Fact Sheet
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

In 2002, there were 3,447 unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging nine people per day. This figure does not include drownings in boating-related incidents (CDC 2004).

For every child 14 years and younger who drowns, three receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. More than 40% of these children require hospitalization (CDC 2004). Nonfatal incidents can cause brain damage that result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to the permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e., permanent vegetative state).

A CDC study about self-reported swimming ability found that:
Younger respondents reported greater swimming ability than older respondents;
Self-reported ability increased with level of education;
Among racial groups, African Americans reported the most limited swimming ability; and
Men of all ages, races, and educational levels consistently reported greater swimming ability than women (Gilchrist et al. 2000).

Groups at Risk

Males: In 2002, males accounted for 80% of drownings in the United States (CDC 2004).

Children: In 2002, 838 children ages 0 to 14 years died from drowning (CDC 2004). Although drowning rates have slowly declined (Branche 1999), drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years (CDC 2004).

African Americans: Factors such as the environment (e.g., access to swimming pools) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates between African Americans and white Americans (Branche et al. 2004). During 2001–2002, the overall age-adjusted drowning rate for African Americans was 1.4 times higher than for whites (CDC 2004). However, these rates vary by age. During this time, African-American infants under one year had a drowning rate slightly higher than the drowning rate of white infants (CDC 2004). Most infants drowned in bathtubs, toilets, or household buckets. Among children 1 to 4 years of age, African Americans had a lower drowning rate than whites. Drownings in this age group typically happened in residential swimming pools. African-American children ages 5 to 19 years drowned at 2.7 times the rate of white children in this age group during 2001–2002 (CDC 2004). As children get older, drownings often occur in open water areas such as ponds, lakes, and rivers. If African Americans participate less in water-related activities than whites, their drowning rates (per exposure) may be higher than currently reported (Branche et al. 2004).

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Risk Factors

Children under age one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets (Brenner et al. 2001).

Among children ages 1 to 4 years, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools (Brenner et al. 2001). Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time (Present 1987).

Alcohol use is involved in about 25% to 50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation (Howland et al. 1995; Howland and Hingson 1988). Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat (Smith and Kraus 1988).

Boating carries risks for injury. In 2003, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 5,438 boating incidents; 3,888 participants were reported injured and 703 killed in boating incidents. Among those who drowned, 86% were not wearing life jackets. Most boating fatalities from 2003 (70%) were caused by drowning; the remainder were due to trauma, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, or other causes. Alcohol was involved in 31% of reported boating fatalities. Open motor boats were involved in 42% of all reported incidents, and personal watercraft were involved in another 27% (USCG 2003).