What is the SAFER swimming ‘Layers of Protection’?

With the layers of protection, you can implement safer practices for your children around water. From learning to swim to using the correct pool barriers, there are some vital steps you can take to improve pool safety.

child with hand stuck in pool fence door

Children are never totally safe around aquatic environments. No matter what your swimming ability no one is free from the risk of drowning. At Rackley Swimming our message is to apply various Layers of Protection, to reduce the risk. If one layer should fail, then there are others to help save a child’s life. 

Pool safety rules are essential for children to learn, as a lapse in supervision, even a brief one, can and does happen. Children can find ways to climb over or through barriers around pools. Children who have swimming lessons can still drown. Are you prepared in case of an emergency?

“Participating in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in children between the ages of 1 to 4.”

Brenner RA, et al American Medical Paediatric Association. 2009

This SAFER water safety message promotes there is still a risk with aquatic environments. This the reason for the “R”- SAFER is a reminder that there is still a RISK that exists. There is no guarantee that children are safe in, on and around water. All the layers of protection need to be employed at one time to ensure optimal water safety.

These layers can be broken down into the following sections: 

  • Adult Supervision
  • Fences & Gates
  • Swimming Skills
  • Emergency Action Plan

Layer 1 – Constant Adult Supervision

Rackley Swimming advocates constant supervision by a competent adult as the single most critical factor in drowning prevention. Royal Life Saving Society Australia report “the lack of direct adult supervision is the main factor in 70% of toddler drowning deaths”.

When at a family function or visiting friends, always appoint an adult to keep watch and ensure pool safety rules are followed. Correct supervision includes:

  • Constant visual contact
  • Being within arm’s reach of a non-swimmer and under 5’s
  • Not being distracted by anything eg. ringing phones and other people
  • Always ready to respond quickly

Did you know that children drowned last year despite pool fences, ‘supervision’ by older children, swimming and water safety lessons and flotation devices? These are NOT substitutes for constant supervision by a competent adult. A competent adult should be able to affect a rescue.

When children are around water, accompanying adults must know:

  • Who is responsible for direct supervision. Children have drowned at aquatic venues because an adult has mistakenly thought another adult was supervising.
  • Are there enough adult supervisors for the number of children under their supervision? Where there is a group of children in the water, enough competent adult supervisors need to be appointed for the appropriate age of the swimmers.
  • The adults who are supervising must be vigilant water watchers and must never leave their ‘post’ until replaced by another competent adult.

Layer 2 – Providing Barriers Such as Fences and Gates

As proper supervision relies on people, it is never 100% reliable. There will be times when caregivers are unable to actively supervise children every minute of the day. Barriers need to be in place to lessen the chances of children getting to the water hazard.

Where possible the water hazard should be removed (eg. Empty wading pools when not in use and put them away).

Where it is not possible to remove the water hazard, it should be fenced. For home pools, this means a pool fence that meets the relevant government requirements. Key points to maximise barrier protection:

  • The pool must be fully isolated from the house by a four-sided complying fence.
  • Self-closing and self-latching gates are used.
  • The fence and gate are checked regularly to ensure they are in good working order. Do you have a Certificate of Compliance?
  • To test if a gate is self-closing and self-latching is to see if it swings freely to close and latch from any open position?

Children, however, can climb fences. Children as young as 2 years old have drowned in backyard pools after using chairs, bins, pot plants, or even eskies to boost themselves up to open the gate or climb over. Ensure that there are no items in the yard that children could drag over and use to climb the fence. For outdoor furniture that is light enough to be dragged, you will need to ensure it is secured with weights, brackets, or even anti-theft wire ropes. 

You must also ensure to never prop open a pool gate. In many cases, propping open a pool gate has also led to drowning. Always follow pool safety rules and close your pool gate behind you and test to ensure it has closed properly. 

white metal fence around swimming pool

Layer 3 – Swimming & Water Safety Skills

Being able to swim well is one of the greatest gifts that can be bestowed upon a child – especially in Australia. While swimming is a fun and healthy activity for children, learning to swim can also save lives.

For young children, the basic swimming and water safety skills include:

  • Water familiarisation, where small children explore and become comfortable in water environments, developing a respect for the water.
  • Gaining confidence through various water activities which include and lead into safe entries and exits breath control, submersions, floating, propulsion with arms and legs turning and back floating.
  • Developing the ‘strokes’ so that your child can efficiently cover much greater distances. The whole ‘learn to swim’ experience should be positive, with a focus on skill acquisition and safety around aquatic environments. 
  • As your child gets older, there is an increased likelihood to be exposed to potentially hazardous water situations requiring them to be stronger swimmers. This includes learning a variety of rescue skills and parallel water safety knowledge such as:
    • Not to go near the pool unless with an adult through
    • Swimming between the flags when at the beach

Please note: no matter how well your child can swim, they are never safe around water. There is no such thing as ‘drown-proof’ or ‘water-safe’.

  • Water temperature – a sudden immersion in cold water can result in ‘cold shock’ which may lead to deep gasping, panic and inhalation of water.
  • Turbulent water – children who are used to swimming in still water can panic if the water is choppy or swirling. Panic can easily cause a child to forget all their swimming skills.
  • Clothing – wet clothes are extremely heavy and can add an extra 20-25% of a child’s body weight. Clothed swimming practice in our water safety lessons is invaluable for aquatic education.
  • No Goggles – even the simplest thing like falling in without goggles can lead to drowning. Once panic happens, the survival rates of an accidental ‘fall in’ decrease. Goggle free swimming times are allocated in our learn to swim lessons at Rackley Swimming.
  • Tiring – children who are swimming well one minute, can also get tired, panic and go under quite fast, so constant supervision of children who are swimming is essential.

While swimming lessons do not substitute for proper supervision, learning to swim can make a huge difference if your child accidentally falls in. At Rackley Swimming we offer Free Swim Safety Checks to ensure everyone can learn at the correct level. 

Did you know?

The overuse of floatation devices (e.g. inflatable arm bands) can give children a dangerous false sense of ability, taking away their respect for deep water, self-awareness and self-preservation.

When the devices are removed, children often forget they are not wearing them, and leap into the water and sink. Although they may have a limited place in recreational settings, they must not be relied upon and are NOT a substitute for supervision.

We recommend periods of ‘floatie-free’ time while swimming if you choose to use floatation devices.

Layer 4 – Emergency Action Plan

In immersion incidents, every second counts. Having an Emergency Action Plan in place can reduce panic and save vital time. Consider the following:

  • If a child is missing, check the pool and other water hazards first. Seconds count!
  • Have a phone poolside for emergency use only. dial 000 … or 112 from mobile phones. 

If there is an accident and you need to contact 000, the emergency operator will ask you:

  • The address
  • What the problem is
  • How many people are injured
  • The patient’s age & gender
  • If the patient is conscious; and is the patient breathing
  • The operator will provide advice until the ambulance arrives 

DO NOT HANG UP You may have to hold the line while an ambulance is dispatched.

To further your skills and understanding you can enroll in a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) course so you are prepared in case of an emergency.

Source: Australian Swim Schools Association


Children can never be completely safe when swimming, that’s why the layers of protection are so vital. With these layers you can help your children become safer when around water. 

  • Layer 1- Always have constant adult supervision 
  • Layer 2- Ensure to provide barriers such as fences and gates around water
  • Layer 3- Teach your children swimming and water safety skills
  • Layer 4- Create an emergency action plan

At Rackley Swimming we believe that every child should learn essential water safety skills, sign up today to our Learn to Swim classes and help your children become safer around the water.