The Dangers of Inflatable Toys and Critical Water Safety Tips for Parents

6 October 2019

Many consider lounging in the pool on inflatable furniture to be the very picture of relaxation. Children and adults alike can lose entire afternoons drifting aimlessly on the gentle water in comfort. However, when it comes to safety, the dangers of inflatable toys and furniture are not often discussed.

There are many unexpected safety hazards that come with the use of inflatable water toys. Australians need to know the risks involved to keep themselves and their kids protected in the water.

The Dangers of Inflatable Water Toys

Inflatables Aren't Meant for the Ocean
One of the most crucial things to remember about inflatables is that they don't belong at the beach. Inflatable furniture is made for the pool, or similar areas closed off from other bodies of water.

In the ocean, inflatables can catch the wind and float away, carrying their unsuspecting passengers into much deeper waters. Children, as well as adults, may not notice until it's too late. The farther out you are pulled, the more at risk you are. This is especially true for children or adults who aren't strong swimmers, and in harsher waters, even strong swimmers may not be able to swim back to shore.

Taking inflatables out on the ocean can have tragic consequences. Even if you accompany your child on the inflatable device, the wind can pick up at any time, and you could be stranded just as this mother was. In her case, beachgoers on shore noticed her inflatable device drifting into deep water, but not everyone is so lucky. According to Surf Life Saving South Australia, inflatables "drift far and fast, up to 500m out to sea in 5 minutes in the wrong conditions."

Inflatables Do Not Replace Life Jackets
Because they float, some people may consider inflatables safe for kids who can't swim, just like a life jacket. But inflatables just make life jackets more necessary. Children who are unable to swim can easily fall off inflatable toys. Even if the children are being supervised, it only takes a moment of distraction for tragedy to strike, as a child can easily become trapped underneath the inflatable. 77% of drowning incidents occur when the victim has only been missing for five minutes or less.

When putting children on inflatable toys, always ensure they are supervised, and make sure they are wearing the proper flotation equipment in addition to whatever inflatable toy they are riding.

Risks of Suffocation
There is also a risk of suffocation that comes with inflatables. Floatables large and small can flip over in the water and trap the rider underneath. This is especially dangerous for children who may lack the strength to turn even a small floatable back over, as this shocking video can show you. It's every parent's worst nightmare.

Water Safety Tips for Parents

Wear Appropriate Safety Gear
Drowning is silent and happens fast. Inflatable toys and furniture aren't a substitute for appropriate swimming safety gear. If you require a life preserver when you swim, you still need to wear one on an inflatable. Children should always wear necessary water safety gear whenever in the water and they must conform to Australian Standards.

Meet Australian Standards
If an inflatable is designed for children aged 14 or younger and intended to support a child's weight in water, they must meet Australian mandatory standards for flotation and aquatic toys.

All flotation and aquatic toys must also be labelled appropriately with this warning notice:


All words must be written in block capitals, not be less than 6mm in height, and in a legible colour contrasting from the background. Avoid any inflatables that do not meet Australian standards.

Not a Replacement for Supervision
No flotation device is a replacement for supervision. Situations on the water can turn dangerous in the blink of an eye, regardless of swimming safety gear. No matter the size of the body of water, always ensure your children are under constant adult supervision, this means watching them and keeping them within arm's reach not just glancing up every now and then.

Check Weather and Water Conditions
Before ever going out on the water, check the weather forecast. If any kind of storm is predicted, save the beach for a sunny day. When you're at the beach, watch for any changes in the tide or the wind.

Rip currents claim more Australian lives than bushfires, cyclones, sharks, and floods combined. Familiarise yourself with how to identify and survive a rip current.

Don't Wait
Don't hold onto hope that those on the shore can see you. If you get into trouble while on an inflatable in the ocean, get off of it as soon as you drift beyond the depth or distance that you are confident you can swim back to shore from. Then raise an arm in the air and call out for help.

No matter how much money you spent on the inflatable device, it's not worth your life. Get off the device as soon as you can.

But the best way to avoid these dangerous situations? Leave all novelty inflatable and aquatic toys at home.

VACSWIM is a government supported initiative run in December and January school holidays that provides children with the opportunity to develop a range of skills in the areas of water safety, confidence and competence in the water, personal survival activities and basic aquatic emergency procedures. Beach locations are managed by Surf Life Saving SA while the 70 plus pool and river locations are delivered by Royal Life Saving SA, YMCA and many independent pools throughout South Australia. Find your closest location here.