Pool Prep: Making Your Home Swimming Pool Safe

So you’ve got a pool. Either you’ve bought a house with a pool, or you built one — but either way, you’ve found yourself in possession of one of those glorified concrete holes in (or above) the ground, and filled it with water.

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Congratulations. As attorneys Keller & Keller say, “For most people, owning a swimming pool may represent the greatest amount of financial and legal risk they ever take with regard to their personal property.” Basically, if someone drowns on the property, you’re probably liable. And according to the CDC,  from 2005 to 2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal non-boating accidents a year: about 10 per day, on average. One in five of those deaths were children aged 14 or younger. 

You really don’t want this stuff to happen. With a great pool comes great responsibility. Here’s what you need to do to make sure your pool is safe for everyone — legal users and trespassers alike (you’re legally responsible for them, too).

You need a really good fence

The American Red Cross recommends a fence or barrier at least four feet in height. These gates and fences, Keller and Keller say, should completely surround the pool. For the safety of small children, most people recommend only one entrance from the pool to the house: for maximum safety, a self-locking door that can’t be opened easily by a child — no, say, sliding screen doors. And make sure there isn’t anything — shrubs, trees, furniture — that can easily be used to boost people over the fence.

[We go beyond prepping your own pool. Check out more water safety tips and things to watch out for in our Pool Security Tips.]

That fence needs to have self-closing gates

The gates need to close automatically behind the user so as to prevent them from being left open. And remember, as the attorneys say: “Pool owners are responsible for keeping their pool secure.” That may mean that your gates require locks, perhaps with electronic combination locks. This adds another layer of security against trespassers.

Always use a pool cover when the pool is not in use

The cover should be what Swim University calls a “safety cover,” which is something that looks like a giant trampoline and holds taut — no pools of water or sinking if you try to walk across it. According to the Red Cross, you should also remove all ladders to the pool at this time, and all pool toys.

Speaking of ladders

SwimmingPool.com says that the steps of the pool ladder should be at least three feet wide, and the sides should be easy for a child to hold. You should have one of them in each side of the pool, and they should be detachable. If you have an above ground pool, the access ladder should be removable and storable in an inaccessible, lockable location — such as a storage shed — to prevent children from getting in.

Get the alarms

There are several different kinds of alarms available for pool owners, and one would do well to take advantage of all or most of them. You can have alarms on the gates, which alert you when the gates are opened. Swim University also recommends perimeter alarms, which sound which someone breaks a perimeter (like, for example, if they’re boosted over a fence).

You can also use a pressure-sensitive alarm. These work by inserting a tube into the water; the alarm goes off when someone over a predetermined weight enters the water. This is the type of alarm Keller and Keller recommend. Finally, you can get alarms that actually strap to children: a wearable alarm that straps to their wrists and goes off if it is immersed in water.

Keep your chemicals right

Make sure, as The Red Cross recommends, that you “maintain proper chemical levels, circulation, and filtration.” Test and adjust these levels as needed on a regular basis. Doing so keeps people from getting sick with things like “earches, rashes, or more serious diseases.” 

Mark the important stuff

Mark depth levels on the pool, and make sure that you keep a rope across the pool where it begins to slope downward. 

Follow the rules yourself

Use non-slip material in the area. Check to make sure it’s legal to have a diving board or slide, and then check with a pool contractor to make sure that the pool has the proper depth for either one.

Enforce all the rules

You know them: no one is allowed to swim alone, ever; no one is allowed to swim intoxicated. All kids have to be supervised heavily at all times, and make them wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (not swimmies or floaties) if their swimming ability is at all iffy. Don’t let people run. Don’t let people run and dive. Be the person that enforces all this.

Because in the end, it’s all your fault anyway

At least, insurance companies will say that it is. Keller and Keller recommend a minimum 1 million dollar insurance coverage for any accidents that may occur in the pool — aside from your regular homeowners insurance.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on Time.com.

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