The colors of your kid’s swimsuit could save their life.
Every day, three children age 14 or younger die from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why it’s important to consider swimsuit color as another part of water safety.
Experts say that swimsuits in bright colors like neon orange may make a difference in how quickly an adult or lifeguard can see a child struggling in the water.
“The way I think of it is if you are going to a crowded area, you try to put something bright on your kids so you can see them quickly. It’s the same in the water,” Mary O’Donoghue, Aquatics Senior Director at the YMCA of Greater New York tells Parentology. “The brighter colors definitely are quicker to see in the water, especially as they’re bobbing up and down. Darker colors tend to be less visible.”
Aquatic safety experts at ALIVE Solutions recently put 14 bathing suit colors to the test in pools and open water to see which ones are the most visible underwater. What they learned may surprise you.
Safest Swimsuit Colors for a Pool
Hands down, the best swimsuit colors for a pool, according to ALIVE Solutions’ color visibility test are neon orange, yellow, green, and pink.
The safety group conducted two separate tests, one in a dark-bottom pool and one in a pool with a white bottom. They submerged 14 different colored swimsuits into 3 feet of water (the depth of the shallow end of most pools) and documented what they looked like in agitated and non-agitated water. Natalie Livingston, a 24-year veteran lifeguard and co-owner of ALIVE Solutions tells Parentology the photos were taken from the angle a parent would be if they were supervising swimmers from a pool deck.
In the light-bottom pool (seen above), neon orange and pink were most visible. The white and light blue swimsuits practically disappeared. And while dark colors like navy blue and black seemed to contrast with the pool floor, Livingston warns they aren’t necessarily safer options. She says that to adults without lifeguard training those colors can often be dismissed for a pile of leaves, dirt, or a shadow.
In the dark-bottom pool (seen below), neon orange, yellow, and green fared the best. Darker colors like black and dark green looked even darker underwater, and the white swimsuit blended in with the water—or as Livingston notes, could be mistaken for a reflection of a cloud.
Safest Swimsuit Colors for Open Water
ALIVE Solutions conducted a third test in a lake, on a partly sunny day. Three photos were taken of each bathing suit—one at the surface, and two different angles of the swimsuits 18 inches underwater. As you can see from the images, neon green, yellow, and orange are the most visible. All of the other swimsuits seemed to vanish underwater—including neon pink.
“I was surprised at how quickly everything just disappeared. I wanted to test them in two and a half feet of water, but we didn’t even get to 18 inches,” Livingston says.
Style Versus Safety
Finding a solid neon-colored swimsuit in your child’s size might be challenging. Passing up that super cute, frilly white swimsuit for your toddler might be hard. And talking your tween out of wearing that blue tankini she loves might be impossible.
“You just want to contrast from the background in which you are swimming,” Livingston says. “The more colors you can get in a pattern the better. If it’s pink polka dots, for example, you want the dominating color to be bright.”
And if you can’t get find a bright-colored swimsuit or convince your child to wear it, opt for a neon-colored rash guard.
For her own kids, Livingston says it’s always a battle of fashion over function. “They still get to wear the cute thing they want, but they wear a rash guard in a bright color.”
Swimsuit Color Alone Is Not Enough
Bright, contrasting colors help with visibility, but as Livingston says in a blog post, “It doesn’t matter what color your kids are wearing if you aren’t supervising effectively and actively watching.”
Most drownings, O’Donoghue warns, happen within 10 feet of safety and 10 feet of an adult, and don’t look like drowning the way it’s portrayed on TV and in the movies. “It’s silent,” she says. “It takes as little as 20 seconds for someone to slip under the water. People don’t scream and shout because all they’re trying to do is get air in their lungs. So, when they slide under the water quietly like that then people right beside them may not even notice.”
Connie Harvey, Aquatics Centennial Initiatives director for the American Red Cross, tells Parentology that tragedies often occur when people assume that someone else is supervising a child or children in the water. “This especially happens in a group setting,” she says.
Designate a Water Watcher
Harvey strongly advises parents to “always designate a ‘water watcher’ whose sole responsibility is to supervise children during any in-water activity until the next water watcher takes over—even when a lifeguard is present.”
“The water watcher,” Harvey says, “Should be actively supervising the activity in the water and not be distracted by activities such as texting, reading, or talking to others.” The designated adult should also be within arm’s reach of young children and new swimmers.
Lifeguards are trained to look for everything. “They’re doing nothing else but scanning the pool top to bottom, bottom to top,” O’Donoghue says. “But for those who are not trained to scan it…, then having those brighter clothes is much easier for them to see if something is happening or not happening…it’s just another assisting piece in the layers of protection.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mary O’Donoghue, Aquatics Senior Director at the YMCA of Greater New York
Natalie Livingston, CPRP, Co-Founder of ALIVE Solutions
Connie Harvey, Aquatics Centennial Initiatives director for the American Red Cross
American Red Cross Water Watcher Card