Floatation Advice

Unintentional drownings were up nearly 17% in 2020, particularly among children. Pandemic-related factors were a major culprit.

line graph depicting rates of unintentional drowning deaths per 100,000 persons less than29 years old by location

Read Time: 2 minutes


Former-NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett stood 6’ 6” and weighed just under 250 pounds as he dove into the ocean for the last swim of his life. While on vacation in Florida, the athlete was swept out by a riptide and became one of the latest victims of unintentional drowning in the United States.

Over 4,000 drownings occur every year in the United States; 1,000 of them are children. Drowning is the leading cause of death among children aged 1-4, and the death rate surges during midsummer months as families flock to beaches and pools.

Briana Moreland and her team at the CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention conducted a report on unintentional drowning in 2020 and discovered a sharp 16.8 percent death rate increase from 2019. The graph shows the most common location for unintentional drowning deaths from 2010-2020—in 2020, 48% occurred in natural water (like lakes, rivers, and oceans) and 24% occurred in swimming pools.

Pandemic-related factors were a major culprit. Unsupervised and socially-distanced swimming and disruptions in infrastructure (fewer lifeguards and lifejacket loaner programs) led to a loss of valuable care precautions. Stay-at-home orders also increased distracted and divided attention among adults watching their children, leading to tragedy.

The report’s findings have added to the urgent conversation about the U.S. government’s plans to keep people safe in and around water. Drowning is preventable. Interventions and plans that work to educate the public on safety measures are critically important. Emphasizing equitable safety measures (fences around pools, lifejackets, the close supervision of children in water) and basic swimming education for high risk children and young adults will keep us all above the water.

Databayte via Briana Moreland, Neil Ortmann, and Tessa Clemens. Increased unintentional drowning deaths in 2020 by age, race/ethnicity, sex, and location, United States. Journal of Safety Research, 2022.