Did you know that, on average, one young child dies from drowning in a portable pool in Australia every year? In addition to those fatalities other children will be hospitalised and some left with severe brain damage.

Consumer protection and product safety regulators have joined forces with Royal Life Saving Society – Australia to educate parents and carers about the drowning dangers associated with portable pools, along with tips to keep kids safe.

As portable pools – also known as wading, paddling, inflatable or kiddie pools – become cheaper and more popular, the chance of young children drowning grows and it’s those under five years old who are most at risk.

Kids are curious, attracted to water and may like to climb. Portable pools in a home environment can seem toy-like and remind them of bath-time.

Before buying or using a portable pool, consider the responsibilities and potential legal obligations that come with it. Don’t duck out, make it safe.

Drowning statistics

There were 18 children aged 0-4 years who drowned in Australia in 2017/18.

Swimming pools were the leading location for drowning among this age group, accounting for 67% of all drowning deaths. Accidental falls into water remain the leading activity prior to drowning among children under five, with 14 drowning deaths or 78% of all drowning deaths.

Safety tips

If you own or are considering purchasing a portable pool, you need to be aware of these simple safety steps.

  • Check with your local council regarding fencing requirements.
  • Ensure you always actively supervise children within arms’ reach whenever they are in, or around the water.
  • Never rely on older children to supervise younger children, no matter how confident you are about their ability to supervise the younger child.
  • For smaller pools – ensure you empty them and put them away when you are finished with them.
  • Always store portable pools safely away from young children. Ensure the pool cannot fill with rain water or water from sprinklers.

What are portable swimming pools?

Portable swimming pools take several forms and include inflatable pools, pools incorporating a canvas or flexible plastic liner attached to a frame, and hard plastic pools such as wading pools. Depths vary from less than 150mm to over one metre.

What should I look for when purchasing a portable pool?

The Australian Consumer Law requires portable pools and their retail packaging to be labelled with warnings drawing attention to drowning hazards and local fencing laws. This is enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and State and Territory regulators.

Why are they dangerous?

Portable pools pose a serious drowning risk to small children. Even with very little water, it only takes seconds for a child to drown in a portable pool.

They also present a risk because owners are generally not aware of the need in most States and Territories to fence a portable pool that is 300mm deep or more.

Children have also drowned in portable pools that have not been emptied and put away after use.

Why do young children drown in portable swimming pools?

Young children are at risk of drowning in portable pools for a number of reasons. Young children are naturally fascinated by water and are top heavy so when they lean over to look into water or reach for an object they can easily topple over and drown in just a few centimetres of water. Young children are unable to understand the concept of danger and may have difficulty in understanding that water could cause them harm. Childhood drowning is a silent event as children generally do not cry out for help.

What are some of the safety issues associated with portable swimming pools?

Drowning of young children under five years of age in portable pools is the greatest risk. Parents often do not actively supervise their children when they are in portable swimming 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. Children can drown in just seconds.

How many children have drowned in portable swimming pools?

Children drown in portable swimming pools every year. In 2013/14, 20 children between the ages of 0-4 drowned in Australia. Swimming pools (in-ground, above-ground and portable) accounted for 70% of these drowning deaths, posing more than 4.5 times the drowning risk than that of any other aquatic location among this age group. Many more children are hospitalised as a result of a drowning incident in a portable swimming pool. Some children are left with persisting neurological impairment as a result of a near-drowning.

Do I need to supervise my child or children when they are in a portable pool?

You should always actively supervise children when they are in or around the water (including portable swimming pools). You should be within arms’ reach of your child at all times and actively supervising, by having constant visual contact with your child and be in a position to respond quickly. Parents should not leave young children in the care of older siblings.

Do I need to fence my portable swimming pool?

By law, in most States and Territories, bodies of water over 300mm in depth, must be fenced – check with your local council for specific requirements. 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.

Info via ACCC

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  • Are people really so dumb that they need to be told to supervise children around water?

    • My thoughts exactly! It’s not the pools that are a danger, it’s not supervising your kids at all times that causes accidents. Sure, if you’re not prepared to supervise, then definitely don’t get a pool!or a swing set. Or a bike. Etc etc etc Supervision is the key


  • Thanks for the post. Once upon a time all your tips would have been considered common sense. Just shows how little of it is around in these current days.


  • Thank you for this reminder with summer here, this is so important.


  • Supervision and sensible play is essential.

    • Supervise and be vigilant all of the time – water is fun but also can be so unpredictable and dangerous.


  • Scary thought. I never leave mine alone when they are playing in or near water and kiddy pools are never left with water in them.


  • Thanks for the reminder, we can’t be careful enough. The thought they can drown in just a couple of centimeters of water is scary.


  • You can’t blame the pool for kids drowning. If you want one you need to be responsible with using it. We have an inflatable pool and it gets emptied when it isn’t been used. When it is being used there is an adult there 100% of the time.


  • Such a timely article for Summer time and swimming season.


  • Ki didn’t think you had to fence a portable pool


  • I wouldn’t have thought that there were so many deaths from such a small amount of water.


  • No matter how shallow the water is, a child can drown! Parents need to be extra vigilant with their kids around any type of water, no matter their age


  • It’s common knowledge and sense to always supervise around water, same as when they are in the bath


  • Most of them the sides are not at all stable. You may have a child who will try to sit on the edge of it and land face down into the water. You can drown in less than an inch of water (imperial measurement).


  • People often think these are less dangerous than “real” pools – and they’re wrong.


  • Always supervise around water, bathtub, pool, beach whatever it may be. Emptying these kinds of pools as soon as you’re done with them is a good idea too, that’s when I do.


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