Olympian Mack Horton’s pool safety tips

Kids in swimming pool

Sue Hewitt

Posted December 09, 2020

How to keep your kids safe around water this summer.

As the weather heats up and swimming pools beckon, Olympic swimming gold medallist and RACV ambassador Mack Horton has warned parents and carers to take extra care watching children around water. 

The 400-metre freestyle champion says a child can drown in as little as 20 seconds. “That’s as long as it takes to choose a song, send a text or dry yourself with a towel, so really, really keep your eyes on them,” he says. “Keeping your family safe around water is your responsibility.” 

The warning comes as the latest data from the Royal Life Saving Society reveals that 507 children under five years of age have died in drowning incidents in Australia between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2020. About half these deaths occurred in swimming pools, mostly in backyard pools. 

And for every child under five killed by drowning, a further eight are admitted to hospital and many suffer life-long health implications.

Life Saving Victoria’s principal research associate Dr Bernadette Matthews fears an increase in drowning deaths this summer because after months of COVID-19 restrictions, many people are unprepared for swimming.    

Children in pool during swimming lesson

Young swimmers should never be left alone near water, no matter their skill or confidence level.


“We are facing a summer where most Victorians have had limited or no exposure to waterways and aquatic recreation in almost a year, so it’s crucial to be prepared before a day out on or around the water,” she says.

Mack, who has partnered with RACV in a Keep Watch pool safety campaign, says after months in lockdown many children may have forgotten what they learnt about water safety at swimming lessons, while parents may need to brush up on their safety routines – especially if on holidays with a pool or near water.

“We need to take it easy and revise how we work around water and how to make it safe for kids,” he says. “It can be as simple as showing children where the pool stairs are and how to get in and out safely.”

He says if there’s a pool at your holiday accommodation, it’s important to read and take heed of pool safety instructions. Every RACV Resort pool, for example, has clear safety procedures, and pool safety is a high priority at each property.    

Regardless of whether you’re at home or away, Mack says it is crucial that young swimmers are never left alone near water, no matter what their skill or confidence level.  

“Stay within arm’s reach of a young child – it only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown,” he says. 

Even when a pool is not in use, it is still a potential danger to young children, says Mack. “Make sure your pool is properly fenced, that the pool gate is not propped open and there are no nearby objects, like a barbecue, that children can use to climb over the fence to access the pool,” he says.

Inflatable and wading pools can also present danger to young children and should be emptied immediately after use. “It only takes 30 centimetres of water for a toddler to drown,” he says. 

Mack recommends that all children should have swimming and water safety lessons. In fact he says these lessons put him on the path to Olympic gold. “When I was a child, I was terrified of putting my head under water at swimming lessons but when I finally did I fell in love with this world,” he says.

Olympian Mack Horton in pool

Mack Horton says his childhood swimming lessons put him on the path to Olympic gold, and all children should have swimming and water safety lessons.

Mack Horton’s top tips for pool safety

  • Children under 10 should be actively supervised by a parent/guardian and always be in your sight, and children under five should be within arm’s reach.

  •  Ensure your pool/spa fence is compliant, well maintained and registered with your local council. 

  • Never leave pool gates propped open and remove objects from the pool area and surrounds that a child can use to climb on and over a pool fence.

  • Always empty inflatable pools and paddling pools immediately after use. 

  • In rural areas use a child-safe play area to restrict a child’s access to water bodies such as dams that cannot be fenced.

  • Enrol your children in swimming lessons to ensure they learn swimming and water-safety skills. 

  • Learn CPR and know what to do in an emergency.

  • Non-swimmers and weak swimmers of any age should not swim alone and should stay in shallow water.