Prevent Drowning – Install Pool Safety Devices

By Rebecca Brennan
Sunday, 16 December, 2012

Prevent Drowning – Install Pool Safety Devices

The latest drowning figures are "incredibly disappointing" and make "bleak reading" says the CEO of Royal Life Saving Rob Bradley, following the release of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012. Pool + Spa talks with the organization about the role of pool safety devices in the prevention of drowning in backyard swimming pools.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 reveals 284 people drowned in Australian waterways between July 1 2011 and June 30 2012. This is a reduction of just 1 per cent (3 drowning deaths) on the 5-year average.

Rob Bradley said, "It's as if much of the education and awareness has simply fallen on deaf ears. Overall there has been absolutely no improvement in drowning in most age groups for 5 years now. In some age groups the drowning toll is still rising."

Royal Life Saving says Australia's current systems to reduce drowning are failing us. They say hundreds of Australians are dying in preventable tragedies or being left with permanent disabilities from non-fatal drowning.

Swimming pools continue to account for the largest number of drowning deaths in children aged 0-4 years, with 8 (38%) drowning deaths in 2011/12.

Speaking about the 0-4 category, Rob Bradley said, "It's certainly positive to see that there's been a reduction in drowning deaths in this category from the five year average of 32 to 21 this year. We hope that trend continues. In this age group we are on track to achieve a 50% reduction by 2020 if parents and carers of young children remain vigilant and employ strategies such as active supervision."

Rob Bradley added, "The decline in drowning deaths of children aged under five over the past 4 years can be partially attributed to increased parental awareness of the importance of child supervision, restricting a child's access to water, the role of water awareness and learning CPR."

P+S. Why should pool owners be concerned with home pool safety?

RLSS. Home swimming pools are the most dangerous aquatic location for young children. Drowning is the most common cause of accidental death among children aged 1 - 4 years.

P+S. How do so many drowning deaths occur in home swimming pools?

RLSS. Home swimming pools are located close to the house and a child's natural curiosity may bring them into contact with the pool. In the majority of home swimming pool drowning deaths, the toddler entered the pool area and drowned without the knowledge of the parent. The most common entries into home pools for toddlers are: via an open gate or one that has been propped open, through a house door, or by using nearby equipment to climb over the fence.

P+S. What is the best method for preventing drowning deaths in backyard swimming pools?

RLSS. Pool fencing is the most effective means of restricting a child's access to water and has saved many lives. However, when children are in the pool area active adult supervision is required at all times. Backyard swimming pools are the most common location where children drown, accounting for half of all drowning deaths of children aged 0-4 years.

P+S. What place do pool safety devices have in preventing drowning?

RLSS. Pool safety devices are products that can be used around the backyard swimming pool or by the child to reduce a child's risk of drowning. They can be used to restrict a child's access to water, to alert parents when gates are opened, to sound an alarm when the child gets wet, or keep children afloat if they fall in.

There is a range of pool safety devices that have been developed over the years to prevent children from drowning. These include: gate alarms, motion detectors, wrist bands, different gate designs, pool covers, gate locks and lifejackets.

P+S. What are the benefits of using these devices?

RLSS. In some circumstances a pool safety device can provide another layer of protection when used alongside compliant and well maintained pool fences, gates that self-close and self-latch and active adult supervision. Each device has strengths and limitations, which should be taken into consideration when thinking about what you are trying to prevent. For example there may be older children using a pool but the owner wants to be warned when the pool gate is opened, thus a gate alarm may be appropriate in this circumstance.

P+S. When purchasing a pool safety device what do the owners need to keep in mind?

RLSS. Each device has its strengths and limitations. Some of the strengths include further restricting access, sounding an alarm when the barrier is breached, or keeping the child afloat when in the water. Limitations include needing to maintain the device, being able to turn off the device and forgetting to turn it on, replacing batteries, limited time the alarm may sound for (e.g. when gate is open only), being set off by non human factors (animals, debris, weather), needing to be placed on the child for it to be effective, needing to be reset/replaced after use, time to set-up and take down, space for installation, storage when not in use, needing to work with a range of different aged pool users, problems with the alarm going off when adults not around, knowing where the child is when the alarm sounds, and distance from receiver to alarm.

Pool Safety Devices Checklist:

If you are thinking about purchasing a pool safety device please consider the following:

  • Battery life
  • Distance from receiver
  • False alarms
  • Weather conditions
  • Animals
  • Use of space in and around the pool
  • Age of children
  • Intended purpose

Safety and Wading Pools

Wading pools, also known as paddling pools, inflatable pools, portable pools and inflatable wading pools, are pools that can be purchased and set up at home for personal use. There are many different types which range from small pools designed for a young child to larger pools that can hold over 10 adults.

By law, in all Australian states, all bodies of water over 300mm deep that are designed for human aquatic use must be fenced. Fencing involves isolating the pool from the home with a well-constructed and well-maintained barrier and a gate that self-closes and self-latches. Most States and Territories have programs in place where pool owners can be fined for non-compliance.

Safety Issues with Wading Pools

Drowning of young children (under five years of age) in inflatable pools is the greatest risk. Parents often do not actively supervise their children when they are in inflatable wading pools or leave them alone for a second to retrieve something from the house, believing that because there is only a small amount of water their child cannot drown. Some parents also forget to drain and deflate these pools after use, and small children can wander away and drown in a pool that was not emptied after use or has filled with rainwater.

Carers should always actively supervise children when they are in, on, or around the water (including wading pools). Carers should be within arms' reach of the child at all times and actively supervising. This means all attention should be on the child all of the time, it is not a casual glance from inside the house to your child playing outside, or an occasional look while doing other things.

Wading Pools Safety Checklist: 

  • Fill the pool with only a small amount of water
  • Securely fence any pool that exceeds 300mm in depth
  • Ensure children are actively supervised and within arms' reach of a responsible adult at all times
  • Do not exceed the number of children or adults the pool can safely hold
  • Always drain and deflate the pool when not in use

Royal Life Saving Society - Australia works to prevent drowning and facilitate healthy, active lifestyles by equipping all Australians with water safety skills. You can read more about the Society and access a range of resources at

Pool Safety Devices in the Market

Gate Alarm

Gate alarms are mounted directly on your pool's gate with two magnetic switches. These alarms, which are battery powered, activate when the gate is opened and the electrical field is broken. There is an override button that can be pressed by an adult to allow them to pass through without sounding the alarm. Gate alarms are designed for outdoor use, come in many different sizes, are inexpensive, and easy to install. The disadvantages of these devices includes they are battery powered, possess no audible low battery indicator, and have no DC power adaptor.

Floating device

These in-pool alarms are mounted on the edge of the pool or in the pool. They are key activated, battery powered, and portable. Generally these alarms sense water displacement when an object weighing more than eight kilos enters the pool. When this occurs a signal is sent to a remote receiver, which is either in the home or carried by the adult. The receiver emits an alarm of approximately 85 decibels. These alarms can be used with pool covers or solar blankets and have an adjustment that can reduce their sensitivity. They are affordable with most models priced around $200. The disadvantages to this system include the portability, which means they can be removed, and the fact that someone must already be in the water before you are alerted.

Perimeter alarm

These alarms, which use laser or infra-red light, form an unbroken beam of light around the pool's perimeter. When someone entering the perimeter breaks the beam the alarm sounds. Alarm beams are positioned 12 to 24 inches above ground level and should be adjusted according to your child's height. These devices, which are the most expensive on the market, give total perimeter protection at a set height. Disadvantages are that the set height may not suit visiting children and that the alarm will activate if one of the pool's perimeter alarms is inadvertently hit, moved, or covered.

Child Wristband

These versatile alarms, which are the latest in water safety, may be used at the pool, in a boat or anywhere there is fresh water. These waterproof devices are key locked securely onto your child's wrist and communicate via a base station. When the wrist alarm is immersed in water the station alarm is activated. Base units and wrist alarms are purchased separately, which means you may have numerous wrist alarms for one base station. The wrist alarms have become very popular. To outfit three children the cost would be approximately $250. Some disadvantages are that they must be on your child's wrist 24 hours a day to be totally effective, separate units must be purchased for visitors to ensure their safety, and they do not function in salt water.

Pool Covers

Also available in the market are pool safety covers, designed for use during the winter months when the pool is not in use. The blankets are designed to prevent drowning by creating a physical barrier between children and pets and the water, all while keeping the pool clean until the weather warms.

In considering a pool safety alarm one should compare features, price, and reliability. Consider the power source or sources, the fail-safes, and the potential for inadvertently disarming the warning system. Remember that pool alarms are one tool that will help to make your swimming area safer. Parental guidance and vigilance are primary in insuring pool safety.

If you are building a pool for a client, don't forget to include these pool safety devices in the quote. If you are involved in pool maintenance and see that there are no pool safety devices present, please inform the owners that such devices are available, inexpensive and provide an additional layer of protection from drowning.  

Thanks to Safety Alarms for providing information on pool safety alarms and to Water Patrol for supplying images. For more information on pool safety devices visit:

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