A backyard pool is a homeowner’s dream — great for poolside entertaining, kids’ parties, and cooling off during summer’s peak. But pools are also a major responsibility, one that goes beyond raking out leaves and chlorinating the water.
Like trampolines, pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” in some jurisdictions. In the attractive nuisance doctrine, landowners are liable for children who get injured while trespassing on their property if they were attracted by some obvious object: swimming pools and other water features, trampolines, treehouses, even piles of lumber or sand.
The theory: A child may not understand the risk associated with an “attractive nuisance,” but you, the adult and landowner, should. While many hazards to children are unpredictable and uncontrollable, a swimming pool isn’t one of them. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children under five, and most of those deaths occur in residential pools. Unsurprisingly, deaths by drowning occur most frequently in summer: June, July, and August. Hot weather should make you especially vigilant, but pool safety is a year-round priority.
If you have a pool or hot tub on your property, whether in-ground or above-ground, implement a safety plan before tragedy strikes. Then make sure you’re holding the right insurance. You may need to purchase extra personal liability coverage to cover your pool’s costly risks.
How to prevent pool accidents
There are two distinct high-risk groups for drowning: children under the age of five and boys ages 15-19. Take the following measures to keep pool-users safe — and make your pool less inviting to youths when adults aren’t around to supervise.
Educate young swimmers
The three top safety tips from Pool Safely, a governmental public education campaign by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, all deal with kids in the water.
- Never leave a child unattended in or near water.
- Teach children how to swim.
- Teach children to stay away from drains.
Kids should have a healthy respect for any body of water, even if it’s the small, kidney-shaped one in their backyard. Swimming lessons are paramount, but there’s more to learn than knowing how to float and stroke. Educate kids about the dangers of water, both drowning and getting hair or jewelry caught in drain suction, as well as how to spot when others are having difficulty in the water.
Importantly, drowning doesn’t always look as dramatic as movies make it appear. Kids could look like they’re just playing under water, but open mouths, glassy eyes, or efforts to swim without making progress all clue you in to danger.
If you have a pool, you should know CPR. Find a class through the Red Cross or a local organization, then keep CPR literature near the pool for the benefit of guests. Note that there’s different CPR protocol for infants, kids, and adults.
While the quick administration of CPR can be life-saving, a child who has experienced drowning is not out of the clear as soon as he or she is out of the water and breathing. Secondary or dry drowning can strike hours or days after the incident, aggravated by leftover water in the lungs. Prolonged coughing, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, and loss of bowel or bladder control (among other symptoms) should alert you to bring your child to the ER.
Establish pool rules
Any kids who use your pool should know the rules. The top rule: No swimming without adult supervision. The Center for Injury Research and Policy states that when watching children in the pool, you shouldn’t have the distraction of a book, a phone, or a conversation. And the younger the swimmers, the closer you need to be: Toddlers should never be beyond an arm’s length from you in water.
Build a fence
A high, locked fence that surrounds all four sides of the pool is your best bet. Four feet is probably tall enough (five-year-olds stand about 3’6” at most) but consider going higher to block out the view of the pool and deter older kids from climbing. On the subject of climbing, vertical posts are better than horizontal. The gate should remain locked when not in use; consider installing an alarm that responds to tampering.
Use safety features
A covered pool is simply not as alluring as an open, sparkling blue surface — and that’s the point. Safety covers fit snugly over your pool, creating a visual and physical barrier that can deter impromptu visitors.
In addition to covering your pool when it’s not in use, be sure to clear away pool toys. The pool should look “closed” when you or another adult isn’t around to supervise use.
Lastly, keep a life ring with rope in a secure, nearby location, as well as a shepherd’s hook.
How to protect yourself from home pool liability
Homeowners insurance for residential pools
Different insurance companies treat residential pools in different ways. While both in-ground and above-ground pools are covered by homeowners insurance, they may be treated as a part of your home or as personal property.
Replacement cost value — If your homeowners insurance lumps your pool in with your home’s Other Structures coverage, then the value of the pool will inflate the total value of your home. In this case, insuring your pool will increase your replacement cost value.
Personal property limit — Most above-ground pools are considered external structures by insurers, the same designation given to tool sheds and fences. Because above-ground pools can be theoretically taken down and transported, they are considered portable and therefore personal property. If your pool is insured as personal property, you may have to specifically list the pool and pay for extra coverage. Many homeowners insurance policies cover personal property up to 75% of the replacement cost value of the home.
Most homeowners insurance policies cover pools for a reasonable uptick in premiums, potentially less than $100 per year. But the value of your pool — plus the costly nature of medical treatment and lawsuits for drowning accidents — may lead you to increase coverage beyond the standard policy limits.
Umbrella insurance policy — Also called excess liability insurance, an umbrella policy kicks in when the dollar amount of your standard policy is exhausted. For liability risks (like swimming pools) that could put you out of substantially more money than your standard limits allow, an umbrella policy gives you an extra layer of protection.
What liability insurance doesn’t cover
The liability portion of homeowners insurance covers pool accidents, both medical expenses and lawsuit costs associated with an injury or death in your pool. Note that liability coverage does not extend to you, the policyholder, and the rest of your household. If you or your family is injured in your own pool, the ensuing medical expenses are left up to health insurance.
While swimming pools give you a lot to think about in terms of liability, the good news is that damage claims to pools are fairly uncommon. This is especially true for in-ground pools, since they are flush with the ground and invulnerable to most weather perils.
Reduce your liability, keep your insurability
Because of the inherent risks of swimming pools, insurance companies require homeowners to keep their pool in an optimally safe condition in order to maintain insurability. Just like you need to perform regular pool maintenance (like draining in winter) to keep your pool insured against property damage, you need to follow safety codes to keep your pool insured against liability. This can mean foregoing slides and diving boards, but generally means complying with local fence codes. A surrounding barrier prevents children from getting over, under, or through when supervising adults aren’t present.