JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s one of the leading causes of death in children: drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning kills about 10 people every day across the United States. One in five are children.
Florida leads the nation in the number of deaths, and so far this year, the Florida Department of Children and Families says seven children have drowned in Northeast Florida.
News4Jax spoke with lifeguards about the warning signs and found new technology that could help save lives.
A drowning can be difficult to spot
Dale Fuller, Sr. knows all too well how quickly and easily a child's life can slip away.
"It can happen to you no matter what you think," he said. "Never let them out of your sight."
In June, his son, Dale Fuller, Jr., was at a pool party in Jacksonville with his basketball team. It took seconds for his son to slip underwater in the deep end, and it took minutes for someone to find him.
Parents tried CPR, but it was too late.
"They didn't know, and when they did know, they did everything they could. It just never looked like he was in trouble," said Fuller.
Lifeguards with the First Coast YMCA train constantly to spot distressed swimmers, and demonstrated for News4Jax what a drowning often looks like.
We saw the swimmer bobbing a bit but not making noise. After arms flailed a bit -- struggling to make it to the surface -- the swimmer just slipped right under.
"What you picture from like a movie scene is not what happens at all," explained lifeguard instructor Emily Schaul. "They just kind of slip under with no noise really. Sometimes they'll make little splashes, but for the most part, you'll see them in that vertical position and they just go right under."
Products available to help prevent drowning
Experts say nothing can replace constant supervision and swim lessons, but News4Jax researched products on the market that can add an extra line of defense. YMCA Aquatics Manager Alex Cramer watched as we conducted our experiment.
One product we looked at is the My Buddy Tag. It's sold at retailers like Target and Amazon for around $40.
The Bluetooth wristband syncs with an app on your smartphone. When your child wears it and gets too far away, the alarm sounds.
When we tried it ourselves, the alarm sounded when we got about 40 feet away. We also found it worked when we were underwater too long. In the deep end of the pool, at about 12 feet, we went underwater.
"It's good, it works pretty quickly, 10 to 11 seconds," said Cramer after the alarm sounded from our underwater test. "These are great as far as if [children] do get out of range or if it gets wet that the alarm will go off."
My Buddy Tag did pass our tests, but Cramer has a warning.
"As an aid, it is a good thing, but as a primary, nothing beats direct supervision," she said, adding products like these should only be used as backup.
The other product we tested -- under the watchful eye of Cramer -- was the Kingii. It's a $90 wristband that inflates a bag that can pull a swimmer in distress to the surface.
In our test, we headed back into the deep end of the pool, dove down about 12 feet and then pulled the device as if we were in trouble. It worked. The balloon inflated, and in a couple of seconds, we were pulled from the bottom to the surface.
We tried it a couple of times just to make sure, as the Kingii is reusable. The product comes with extra CO2 cartridges to reinflate the bag.
"You had to be aware enough to pull it yourself, so as long as that part happens and it works perfectly, yeah it did. It brought you right up to the top," said Cramer.
But she warns, neither the Kingii nor the My Buddy Tag are replacements for good old-fashioned eyes and ears.
"My biggest fear is that parents will think that they can rely on it as a primary source. And these are never going to be accurate enough to be the primary source," Cramer warned.
You can learn more about swim lessons and programs offered by the YMCA on the organization's website.
Drownings in Northeast Florida
We looked at drownings over the last six years in Northeast Florida from data collected by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Many drownings occurred in pools and some were in ponds. We have noted if the drownings occurred another way.
2012: 8 drownings
(1 was a bathtub, 1 was a bucket, 1 was a septic tank)
2013: 5 drownings
(1 was bathtub-related)
2014: 5 drownings
2015: 6 drownings
(1 was bathtub-related)
2016: 11 drownings
(1 was a bathtub)
So far in 2017: 7 drownings