Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Health and Physical Education | Other Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion


Drowning at open-water areas is the second leading cause of unintentional death among Washington State children. Providing written and visual safety instructions and loaned life jackets at swim sites (“loaner boards”) may reduce the risk of drowning. This study sought to understand parental perceptions regarding loaner boards and behaviors related to bringing flotation devices for children to use while swimming. Of the 102 surveys administered to parents on the beach at 10 different open-water sites, 29 were collected from sites with loaner boards. Parents provided information about ages of family members present, flotation devices brought and perceptions surrounding loaner boards. The majority (85%) of families with young children (under six years old), brought some type of flotation device and 59% of them brought life jackets compared to 57% and 8% of families with only children six or older, respectively. Results provide evidence that parents of children younger than 6 years old more often plan for children to use life jackets while swimming; this may partially explain low rates of life jacket use among older children. Findings can guide efforts to increase the efficacy of loaner board programs and develop strategies to promote parental encouragement of life jacket use for older children.