This one tip could save your child from drowning

Janelle Randazza
The color of your child’s bathing suit may be more important than you realize.

While you’re shopping for your child’s new swimsuits, you’re probably most focused on finding a style they like—emblazoned with action figures or Disney icons. But there is an important factor that you may not be giving enough attention to, and one that significantly factors into water safety: The visibility of the swimsuit, should your child go underwater.

The color of your child’s bathing suit may be more important than you realize. Alive Solutions, a company that specializes in aquatic safety, training, and risk assessment, tested 14 swimsuits in varying colors first in a pool and then in a lake and the results of the test may shock you.

Most swimsuit colors virtually disappear or appear to be a cluster of leaves or debris—not a struggling child—when only 18 inches below the surface of the water. Visibility continues to decrease exponentially with any sort of water agitation, like in a moderately-active swimming pool or water park, or in a lake or ocean with any amount of wave activity.

The tests 

Bright and contrasting colors are recommended as the safest choice when buying swimwear.

For each test, Alive placed each swimsuit color on the surface of the water. They then submerged the suits and agitated the water, allowing the suits to sink about 18 inches deep—a depth where visibility is crucial for life-saving during water accidents.

Alive then took photos at two additional levels—shore level and then slightly elevated, about dock or boat level—to simulate heights lifeguards or caregivers might be at when searching for a child in the water. The degree to which a swimsuit becomes difficult, if not impossible, to spot varied widely based on its color. Popular swimsuit colors, like blues and greens, almost completely disappeared.

Which colors work best for open water and pools

Neon yellow, green, and orange swimsuits were the most visible beneath 18 inches of open water. All other colors disappeared quickly.

In open water, bright, neon colors, including orange, yellow, and lime green, fared best. Pools were a bit more forgiving overall, but it was pointed out by the testers that “although the darker colors show up on a light pool bottom they can often be dismissed for a pile of leaves, dirt, or a shadow so I tend to stay away from those colors when possible.” As for open water, white suits were also cautioned against, as they appeared to be patches of cloud reflections.

The post recommended that, no matter where you plan to swim, opt for bright and contrasting suit colors. Just like a brightly colored outfit can help you find your child in a crowd, Alive found that bright visibility was crucial to identifying a child in a body of water.

The findings also note that it’s important to consider other environmental factors that may impact visibility when packing up for a day of water play, including water clarity, lighting, currents, and the weather. While bright neon colors were the best options overall, it’s interesting to note that some colors, like neon pink, were highly visible in a pool setting but nearly disappeared when tested in a lake. What that means is it’s important to select a suit that provides high visibility in the type of water you plan to visit.

According to the post, “This test also reinforced how important it is in lakes, beaches, rivers, [and] open water environments to keep people on the surface (with life jackets).”

Why this matters

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths in children: It’s quick, it’s quiet, and it can happen to anyone—even strong swimmers. The majority of drownings and near-drownings occur in residential swimming pools and in open water sites.

But while proper dress will help improve your ability to spot a child in distress, Alive Solutions did caution that shouldn’t be the only water safety measure you take. With child drownings linked to caregiver’s distractions, including the use of cell phones, it’s important to know that brightly colored clothes can’t replace a lack of vigilance with supervision.

The group states: “Remember…the bright and contrasting colors help visibility, but it doesn’t matter what color your kids are wearing if you aren’t supervising effectively and actively watching.”

Tips for keeping kids safe in the water

Here are some expert tips for upping your kids' safety during water play.

Be close and constant

This goes without saying, but while parents may feel as though they are watching their children, sometimes they aren't watching as closely as they should. Most water-related injuries happen when adults were distracted or thought someone else was watching the child.

Supervising adults should be close, constant, and free from distractions. It’s recommended to have a designated “watcher” at all times. That watcher should be free from conversations and any other distractions.

Keep small children within arm's reach

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "touch supervision" for beginning swimmers, meaning the adult should be within an arm's reach of the child so he or she can pull the child out of the water if the child's head becomes submerged.

Invest in swim lessons

While even the strongest swimmers aren’t safe from accidents, teaching your kids how to swim and how to behave safely around water are key to preventing drowning. Kids can start swimming lessons as early as 1 year old and self-rescue techniques, as well as basic swimming skills, should be reinforced annually.