Your child's swimsuit could help prevent drowning, experts say: What colours are most and least visible under water?

According to a new report, 97 per cent of drowning cases for children less than 5 years old are caused by supervisors becoming distracted.

two kids in blue swimsuits
Parents may want to avoid blue swimsuits for their kids. (Photo via Getty Images)

With school officially over, many families are ready to kick off the summer break with some outdoor fun for the Canada Day long weekend. While many of us are looking forward to spending time by the pool or on the lake, water safety is always a top of mind concern. Tragic accidents can take seconds to happen — and are often silent. According to a 2024 report by Ontario's Lifesaving Society, 97 per cent of drowning cases for children less than 5 years old were caused by lack of supervision or supervisors becoming distracted.

Although fencing off pool areas, wearing life jackets and having supervision are key, the colour of your child's swimsuit can play a role in keeping them safe in the water. A 2021 study by ALIVE Solutions Inc., an organization which focuses on aquatic safety, noted certain colours lose visibility when submerged in different bodies of water, making it harder for parents and lifeguards to detect activity and potential drownings.

The company put different colours of swimsuits to the test to see how each appear when submerged in dark and light-bottomed pools. Each suit was photographed first when submerged in water and again to show how the colour appears underwater with surface agitation.

"Our bottom two colours are white and light blue (check out how they disappear) and our top choices would be neon pink and neon orange," ALIVE Solutions wrote in a 2021 Facebook post. "Although the darker colours show up on a light pool bottom they can often be dismissed for a pile of leaves, dirt, or a shadow so I tend to stay away from those colours when possible."

Results became even more troubling when the same test was conducted in lake water. ALIVE submerged the same colour swimsuits in 18 inches of lake water and found that even some of their high-visibility colours in pools, like neon pink, all but disappeared. Neon green, orange and yellow performed well, however blues, greens and black had the lowest visibility.

Three kids on a float in the swimming pool in their swimsuits
Experts say neon orange or neon pink are the best colours for swimsuits. (Photo via Getty Images)

"Also remember, the bright and contrasting colours help visibility, but it doesn’t matter what colours your kids are wearing if you aren’t supervising effectively and actively watching," the company wrote on Facebook.

In 2023, ALIVE Solutions furthered their testing by looking at the impact of both small and large-print pattern on visibility. The group found that neon colours were still ideal, even with large or small patterns, however large, dark patterns impacted visibility.

"Having a background as an aquatic operator and lifeguard I know that certain colours are easier to see than others and also how challenging water can be to see through," Natalie Livingston, co-founder of ALIVE Solutions, said in a 2020 interview with TODAY Parent. "I started to notice this personally with what my kids wore in different water environments and wanted to test the colours in different conditions so we could increase visibility as much as possible."

Although there is no recent national data available, data reveals drowning cases are on the rise in Ontario, with 48 per cent of drowning incidents occurring in lakes or open water.

Separate research shares equally troubling information for children in Quebec. According to a study by Canadian Association of Paediatric Surgeons, an average of nearly child a day goes to the emergency room in Quebec for a drowning or near-drowning related incident in the summer months.

Dr. Hussein Wissanji, a pediatric surgeon at Montreal Children's Hospital was set to present his findings at a conference in September, but released his findings now in an effort prevent injuries and fatalities this summer. His research noted a majority of drowning incidents for children under 4 years old occurred in pools that were not properly fenced.

Home swimming pool in garden with safety fence
Home swimming pool in garden with safety fence

"Having seen some of these families in the emergency department, it is probably one of the worst days of their life when they're coming in the ambulance for their child who just had a near-drowning," Wissanji told The Canadian Press.

Parents should maintain constant, uninterrupted supervision of their children while they're in the water, wear a suitable personal floatation device and have four-sided enclosures on their pool areas to prevent drowning incidents.

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