Safety: Swimming pools

  • A swimming pool can provide children hours of entertainment, and also provides a great opportunity for exercise.

    However, drowning is the third most common cause of death for Australian children aged one to 14. Children can drown in as little as 20 seconds – one- and two-year-old children are particularly at risk.

    Teaching children how to swim and play safely in water is very important, as is having adult supervision at all times.

    Water safety rules

    Supervision is vital in preventing childhood drownings or near-drownings. By learning and enforcing the following four simple safety rules, you can help keep children safe around water.

    Rule 1: Constant active supervision

    Never take your eyes off children in, on or around water.

    • Supervision means constant visual contact, not the occasional glance.
    • You should actively supervise children, even if they can swim.    
    • Avoid all distractions, including using a phone or answering the door.
    • Do not leave older children (under the age of 16) to supervise younger siblings.
    • Children under five must be within arms’ reach, and children under 10 must be clearly and constantly visible and directly accessible.

    Rule 2: Restrict access to water

    It is illegal for pools and spas not to be fenced off.

    • Private swimming pools and spas must have a childproof safety barrier.

    Rule 3: Learn first aid and resuscitation

    • Parents or carers should do a first aid course to learn infant and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the case of an emergency.
    • First aid skills should be updated every three years, and CPR skills annually.

    Rule 4: Increase water awareness

    • Swimming and water safety lessons are recommended for all children.
    • Build your child’s familiarity and confidence around water through aquatic play, setting rules and discussing water safety in a variety of locations.

    Read more about these water rules in our fact sheet on Safety: In and around water.

    Home pool safety and barriers

    Set rules for use of your pool at home. Make sure your children understand how serious the rules are.

    Every private swimming pool or spa with a water depth of more than 300 mm must have a childproof safety barrier. Barriers are required for:

    • in-ground, above-ground and indoor swimming pools
    • inflatable or relocatable pools
    • jacuzzis, hot tubs and spas.

    You will need a building permit before installing a barrier.

    • Safety barriers are no substitute for adult supervision.
    • Ensure that fencing complies with the appropriate standards for your state or territory. 
    • Gates should open outward away from the pool, and be self-closing and self-locking. Never prop open a pool gate – it is illegal to do this.
    • Remove objects like chairs and pot-plants that can be used to climb over the fence.
    • If you leave the pool or water area, even for a moment, take your child with you.
    • Empty wading (paddling) pools when they are not in use.
    • Store pool chemicals out of view and out of reach of children. Always use chemicals appropriately and follow the directions for use on the label.
    • Deflate inflatable pool toys when not in use and check them for leaks before use. Never leave pool toys in the pool when they are not in use.

    Public pool safety

    Even at a supervised public pool, never take your eyes off children. Toddlers, in particular, have a natural attraction to water, and their sense of danger is under-developed. A lack of direct supervision by a parent or carer is believed to be a contributing factor in more than two-thirds of drowning deaths at public pools.

    • Follow the lifeguards’ directions and pool rules. Lifeguards are not babysitters – you are responsible for supervising your child.
    • Be aware of your child but also be aware of others around them if it is crowded.
    • Do not go out of your depth when in the water with your child unless you are a strong swimmer.

    Key points to remember

    • Never leave a child alone around water. Always actively supervise children in, around and on water.
    • Follow public pool rules and set rules for your pool at home – ensure the rules are enforced and followed by your children.
    • Install and maintain adequate fencing that complies with the appropriate standards.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Is it safe for my children to play with pool toys?

    Pool toys can include any floatation devices, pool noodles, rings, kickboards and inflatable toys such as rafts. Pool toys are OK to use, but children still need to be actively supervised in the water, even if the child is being supported by a floatation device to keep them afloat in water.

    Always ensure toys comply with Australian standards, and that the toy is suitable for your child's age and weight.

    All pool toys should be put away (and deflated if appropriate) after use so that they don’t attract attention or tempt children into the pool area.

    We’re looking at buying a house with a pool, but it is not fenced off. What are the legal requirements for older swimming pools?

    Check with your state or territory’s pool fencing legislation for current fencing requirements. In Victoria, according to the Victorian Building Authority (VBA), swimming pools or spas constructed prior to 8 April 1991 or on or between April 1991 to 1 May 2010 have a slightly different set of regulations that apply. All outdoor swimming pools and spas built after 1 May 2010 must not have direct access to the pool area via a door from a building.

    If you are replacing an existing safety barrier for a swimming pool or spa built before 1 May 2010, you will need to comply with the current regulations.

    It is the pool owner's responsibility to ensure their pool or spa barrier is compliant before selling or leasing their property, but there are differences in how this is regulated in each state and territory.

    Speak to a licenced builder or your local building authority for information specific to your situation.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information in consultation with Life Saving Victoria. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


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