When Thinking About Water Safety, Consider Your Kid's Swimsuit Color

It's a little-known factor to take into account when your kids are at the pool, drowning experts say.

Summer means families are more spending time in and around the water: Pool parties, beach days and boat rides are all more common this time of year.

As temperatures heat up, brushing up on water safety is crucial for everyone, but particularly for parents of young kids. According to the CDC, drowning is the second leading cause of death for kids ages 1 to 4.

In addition to educating yourself on drowning prevention (more on that below), there’s a little-known factor to consider when taking your kids swimming this summer — the color of their bathing suits.

Alive Solutions, a company specializing in water safety, conducted an informal study in 2020 to test how visible different colored swimsuits would be in light-bottomed pools, dark-bottomed pools and lakes. For the pools, they tested what the suits looked like underwater (top row) and then again with some surface agitation (bottom row) from the perspective of a person standing on the pool deck.

How different swimsuit colors look in a light-bottomed pool. The second row shows the same colors, but with surface agitation.
How different swimsuit colors look in a light-bottomed pool. The second row shows the same colors, but with surface agitation.
Here's how swimsuit colors show up in dark-bottomed pools. The second row shows the colors with surface agitation.
Here's how swimsuit colors show up in dark-bottomed pools. The second row shows the colors with surface agitation.

For the lake, the company tested the different swimsuit colors on the surface of the water (top row), from a shore view (middle row) and from an elevated view (bottom row) to simulate what it would look if the parent were standing on a boat or a dock. The water was only 18 inches deep.

“We do drowning investigations and know that visibility is important in drowning recognition,” Natalie Livingston, co-founder of Alive Solutions, told HuffPost. “As lifeguards and aquatics professionals, we know that there are certain factors that can make someone easier or more challenging to see in the water.”

“Knowing this as our background, we started to look at swimwear for our kids and realized that so many parents were selecting swimwear that was super cute and fashionable, but would cause their children to potentially disappear under the water,” she said.

Here's how the various swimsuit colors show up in a lake.
Here's how the various swimsuit colors show up in a lake.

Neon colors that provide contrast performed the best in both pools and lakes. For light-bottomed pools, neon pink and neon orange stood out the most, while white and light blue suits stood out the least. Dark colors like purple and black could be seen well but are not recommended, as they could be mistaken for dirt, leaves or a shadow.

For lakes and dark-bottomed pools, neon orange, neon green and neon yellow were the most visible. Notably, neon pink did not perform well in the lake setting. White was visible in that environment but could easily be confused for light reflection on the surface of the water, so it isn’t recommended.

“The goal was really to show others how to stay more visible and also how water is challenging to look through. It is not like looking through air,” Livingston said. “Overall, neons came out in the lead in all categories.”

It’s also worth noting that in the lake setting, at two feet of depth, visibility went down to zero for all the colors tested — a good reminder about the importance of wearing life jackets in open-water environments since they keep swimmers at the surface. (Note: Unlike life vests, water wings, tubes, baby circles and other inflatables are not considered safety devices.)

Kids ages 5 and under should also wear life jackets in pools if they’re not protected by “touch supervision,” which means a caregiver is “within an arm’s reach of the child at all times,” according to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

The color of your child’s bathing suit is of little importance if other safety measures aren’t being taken.

Mario Vittone, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer and drowning expert, said that considering the visibility of swimsuit colors in pools is “not a bad idea” and that avoiding white and blue ones is a good call. But he wouldn’t go so far as to say neon-colored suits are “safer.”

“If the color of the suit comes into play, then the drowning has probably already occurred. Being able to easily spot the kid laying on the bottom is good, but it is significantly less good than never letting them get to the bottom in the first place,” Vittone told HuffPost.

“A child in a light blue bathing suit that has had swim lessons and is swimming in a well-guarded pool is an order of magnitude safer than a child in a hot neon yellow suit who hasn’t had swim lessons in a pool guarded by one lifeguard who never takes breaks.”

Indeed, getting your child swim lessons at a young age can reduce their risk of drowning. Make sure you have a good understanding of your child’s swimming abilities — and your own skill level, too.

But as the American Academy of Pediatrics noted, “even advanced swimming skills will not always prevent drowning” and “swimming lessons must be considered only within the context of multilayered protection.”

Constant, careful, undistracted adult supervision is absolutely essential when kids are in and around the water. Drowning happens very quickly — sometimes in a matter of seconds — so even looking away to quickly check your phone or grab a snack can be dangerous.

“Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.”

- Mario Vittone, former Coast Guard rescue swimmer and drowning expert

“Watch — with your eyes — the children in the water, the entire time they are in the water,” Vittone said, while also recommending that adults watch any lifeguards present for about 15 minutes to determine how attentive they’re being.

Having an adult act as the designated “water watcher” is a good idea, too. Just be sure to switch off who’s on duty every 15 minutes or so to give each other breaks and to stay sharp.

“When everybody is watching, nobody is watching,” pediatrician and former lifeguard Dr. Sarah Denny recently told HuffPost. “We see this all the time: A whole group of adults [is] around and a child drowns, and it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s just [that] everyone assumes everyone else is watching.”

Drowning can be difficult to recognize, so it’s important to know what to look for. It doesn’t look like the thrashing, splashing, yelling-for-help depictions that you’ve seen in movies. As Vittone wrote in a viral post on his website, it’s “almost always a deceptively quiet event.”

“Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why,” he wrote.

Look for signs like the child’s head tilted back and low in the water with their mouth open at water level. Other signs include gasping for air, hair covering their face, and eyes that are open, glassy and empty or tightly shut. The swimmer may also look like they’re trying to climb an invisible ladder.

Another important precaution: Add barriers like a four-sided fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate around a pool or hot tub to restrict access.

“If your home represents the fourth side of the pool, make sure you have a door alarm, so you’re alerted if your child leaves the home,” Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Nikki Fleming previously told HuffPost. “In addition, you can also use a pool alarm that will signal an alarm if the child were to actually enter the water.”

Learning CPR can be another life-saving tool to add to your arsenal. When dealing with a drowning victim, experts recommend you start by giving rescue breaths.

“It is not normal, layperson, compression-only CPR,” Livingston said. “Drowning care first starts with air — time without oxygen is critical in the outcome, so giving breaths first is so important.”

You can find trainings in your community or online via the Red Cross and other organizations.

Need help finding a colorful suit? The perfect guide is below.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

A pair of electric lemon swim trunks
Made from a durable and quick-dry polyester that's resistant to chlorine fading, these swim trunks by Lands' End fall just above the knee and come in both neon yellow and green. They are available in boy's sizes 2-20.
A colorblock one-piece
The soft and stretch ribbed fabric of this one-piece offers UPF 50+ sun protection that can block up to 98% of harmful rays, and features a knotted cut-out detail on both the front and back of the suit. It's available in girl's sizes XS-XL.
A lime green swim set for boys
This vibrant lime green set (pieces sold separately) includes a soft stretch rash guard and a pair of striped mid-rise swim trunks, both with UPF 50+ sun protection. The trunks, which feature both pockets and an elastic drawstring waist, are available in boy's sizes XS-XL and the rash guard is available in XS-XL as well as husky sizes M-KL.
A one-piece rash guard for babies and up
Featuring a bright hibiscus print, this one-piece rash guard is available in sizes 0-24 months. It offers UPF 50+ sun protection and features a zip-up neck as well as a button-closure inseam to make getting your little one in and out easier.
A pair of lime boy's trunks with shark design
Available in both regular (XS-XL) and husky sizing (M-XL) these mid-rise swim trunks feature a functional drawstring waistband, built-in briefs and a back pocket. The quick-dry soft fabric blend also offers UPF 50+ sun protection.
A neon orange rash guard
This short-sleeve rash guard is an Amazon bestseller and fits like a comfortable T-shirt. It promises UPF 50+ sun protection, is machine-washable and available in toddler sizes 2-5 and regular boys' sizes 6-16. If orange isn't doing it for you, this swim shirt comes in other high-visibility options including electric yellow and lime.
Old Navy
A pair of swim trucks for toddlers
These bright orange swim trunks (also available in neon yellow) from Old Navy are made for babies 12-24 months and toddlers 2-5 years old. They have UPF 50+ sun protection, built-in mesh briefs and a smooth quick-drying shell.
The Children's Place
Neon yellow trunks for babies and toddlers
Made from a recycled polyester twill shell and mesh lining, these electric yellow swim shorts are available in sizes for babies 6-24 months and toddlers 2-5 years old. They promise UPF 50+ sun protection and have side vents at the hem.
A tangerine off-the-shoulder one-piece
Boasting a delightful tangerine shade and a smock-textured material, this one-piece in girl's sizes 8-14 features a sweet off-the-shoulder design and built-in UPF 50+ sun protection.
A cross-back bikini with pom pom detail
This two-piece features an adorable flounce top with a criss-cross back and pom poms along the hem. It's available in girl's sizes for 5-12 years of age. Reviewers say this runs small and recommended going up in size.
A puff-sleeve two-piece
Designed by Stella Cove, a girl's beachwear brand, this lime green two-piece features a puff-sleeve crop top and mid-rise bikini briefs. It's available in sizes for kids 8-16 years old, and the brand recommends sizing up.
A three-piece girl's swimsuit
This three-piece set from Gap is made with a soft ribbed-knit material with UPF 50+ protection and comes in girl's sizes 4-16. The swim top has adjustable spaghetti straps and the mock-neck rash guard features a twist hem detail.
Vans board shorts for tweens
Perfect for tweens, these lined board shorts by Vans come in boy's sizes 8-12 and feature a shorter hemline and handy pockets. The cotton and nylon shell is also quick-drying.
A UV-protective rash guard for girls
This protective quick-dry rash guard for girls is made with a moisture-wicking four-way stretch material that also features built-in UPF 50+ sun protection. There's also a board-connector loop along the shirt's hemline, making this a perfect option for swimming. It's available in kid's sizes 6-16.
An orange flutter suit for toddlers and above
Featuring a sweet flutter neckline, adjustable tie-back straps and vivid orange color, this one-piece comes in toddler sizes 1-2 years and kid's sizes 4-10 years of age.
A neon yellow cut-out one-piece
This highlighter-yellow one-piece is designed with a cut-out midriff and embossed patterns. It's available in kid's sizes 7-16.

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