Keeping it cool with a pool

DATE | 06/06/23
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Can’t wait to make a splash this summer in your backyard pool? Have fun! But make sure you’re ready for it by understanding your risks and responsibilities.

Ahhh, the backyard pool…splashing around with family and friends, a chance to relax and relieve some stress, and a fun way to get some exercise. No wonder they’re so popular. According to the trade group Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, there are 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the United States. And the small window of warm weather in Wisconsin every year makes time at the pool even more special.

So there’s a lot to love about a backyard pool. But like anything else, there is a price tag that comes with it in order to keep everyone safe and make sure you’re financially protected.

With some careful planning and preparation, you can have a great summer with your pool. Before you dive in, you need to recognize the real signs of drowning, take some safety precautions, and make sure you’re financially covered so you don’t get dunked.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning: It’s silent

Think you know what drowning looks like? Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In 10% of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).

Drowning is usually a deceptively quiet event. The dramatic waving and yelling we often see on television and the movies actually rarely happens in real life. Dr. Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D, calls what people actually do to avoid suffocation in the water “the instinctive drowning response.” Here is some of what it looks like:

  • People are usually physically unable to call out for help, because speech is a secondary function to breathing. The mouths of drowning people aren’t often above water long enough to exhale, inhale, and call for help.
  • Drowning people are pressing down on the water’s surface to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. Because of this, they’re not likely to wave for help.
  • People who are drowning can’t voluntarily control their arm movements to reach out for a rescue item or move toward a rescuer.
  • From the beginning to the end of the drowning process, people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no supporting kick. Unless rescued, they will likely bob on the surface of the water for 20 to 60 seconds before they submerge.

It’s still possible for a person to wave and yell for help very early on. Unlike true drowning, they can still grab a lifeline or a throw ring, etc. But that initial period doesn’t last long.

If you see someone who looks like they’re just treading water, looks glassy-eyed, or has their head tilted back with their mouth open, ask them, “Are you all right?” If they don’t respond, you may have less than 30 seconds to rescue them.

And remember—children playing in and around the pool make noise! If the kids aren’t making noise, get to them right away and find out why.

Play it safe

Better safe than sorry is more than just a piece of common sense. When it comes to having a pool, it should be your cardinal rule. Some of the tips below may seem obvious, but it’s easy to underestimate what can actually happen around a pool. Stay vigilant and you’ll reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.

  • Always watch your children when they are in or near a pool or spa.
  • Can’t find your child? Look in the pool first.
  • Have a cell phone close by at all times when you or your family are using a pool.
  • Plan out a set of safety instructions and poolside rules and share them with your family, friends, and neighbors.
  • You should know how to swim and your children need to learn how to swim. Most communities have lessons available.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on the latest CPR techniques for adults and children. Visit for classes.
  • Understand the basics of life-saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency. Get started by contacting your local YMCA, Red Cross, parks and recreations department, university, or community college for courses in water safety techniques.
  • You need a four-foot or taller fence around the pool with self-closing and self-latching gates. Ask your neighbors to do the same at their pools.
  • If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and always use them. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing a pool.
  • Ensure that your pool has compliant anti-entrapment or safety drain covers—ask your pool service provider if you’re not sure.
  • You may want to install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water.
  • Consider using a surface wave or underwater alarm.

Insurance costs and protection

Most insurance companies, like Member Benefits, require a pool to be four feet from the ground to the top of the pool in order to be covered in the policy. For an inground pool, the yard must be fenced in.

From an insurance perspective, swimming pools are considered an attractive nuisance—something that is likely to entice children and could pose a risk of injury. As the owner, you have the burden of taking adequate measures to protect children. Even if someone comes over and uses the pool without your knowledge, you may be liable for any potential injury they may suffer from it. So take safety measures seriously to reduce your risk. You may also want to increase your liability coverage through a personal umbrella policy.

Whether you have a pool or are considering purchasing one, be sure to talk to your insurance company so that you clearly understand your specific options, obligations, and coverages in your plan.

One last thing

Don’t forget to contact your town about local safety standards and permit requirements before you install a pool. Your neighborhood association may also have guidelines for you to follow.

So before you dive into your pool this summer, take some time to understand your risks and responsibilities and keep everyone safe. You’ll still have plenty of time to relax and make some waves.

>> Create a pool safety kit and more.