How the Virginia Graeme Baker Act Made Swimming Safer

In the summer of 2002, a 7-year-old girl named Virginia Graeme Baker stepped into a hot tub. Then tragedy struck. She was a strong swimmer, a member of the community swim and dive teams—but that didn’t help her when she became stuck in the strong suction of the hot tub’s drain. She was pulled underwater and trapped by a faulty drain cover and could not free herself. Her mother and two men struggled to free her, but by the time they got her out it was too late: Graeme had died from drowning due to suction entrapment.

After her daughter’s tragic death, Nancy Baker advocated for pool and hot tub drain safety, eventually working to get a safety regulation bill passed through Congress. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida sponsored the legislation, which was signed into law in 2007 by President George W. Bush. This law, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act—called the VGB Act for short—has improved the safety of swimming pool drains to help prevent future accidents like the one that claimed the life of little Virginia. Because of the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, accidents have been reduced—you can now jump into the swimming pool with greater peace of mind.

Photo Credit: Ninja Artist

The Virginia Graeme Baker Act

The VGB Act is a federal law that outlines what a safe drain looks like and requires all public pools and spas, including those at schools, fitness centers, and hotels, to comply. Outdated drains are flat and can create strong circulation that can pull hair or swimming suits in, causing entrapment. The flat drains can also create a strong suction if they get blocked by a swimmer’s body part.

To prevent this suction and prevent swimmers from getting stuck, VGB compliant drain covers are curved rather than flat, making it so they can never be fully blocked. The law also requires that if a pool has a single main drain, an additional anti-entrapment device or system must be installed. For example, the single drain must be accompanied by a system such as a safety vacuum release or automatic pump shut off that turns off the suction or circulation if any blockage is detected. The VGB Act does not regulate residential pools or hot tubs, but it does encourage each state to pass laws to help avoid entrapment in residential pools, along with requirements for barriers or fencing around pools to prevent drowning.

The VGB Act provides for grants to help state and local governments to bring pools into compliance with the law, make updates to prevent drowning, and increase awareness and education about pool safety.

Swim Safer Today

Drowning is a leading cause of accident-related deaths in children under age 14. But as a result of the Virginia Graeme Baker Act accident, pools today are safer than ever. VGB compliant drains were installed in most pools across America in 2008 in response to the law and in an effort to prevent future tragedies. Swimming pools should be places for fun, recreation, and exercise, not a danger to our children. With safer drain covers and anti-entrapment backup systems, drowning and entrapment accidents can be prevented.

Because the VGB Act does not cover residential pools and spas, and because some public pools may not have VGB compliant drain covers or broken drains, it is important to take precautions around swimming pools. Follow these safety guidelines every time you or your children go swimming:

  • Ask if the swimming pool or spa is VGB compliant. If the owner or operator says no or doesn’t know, don’t swim or let your children swim.
  • Tell your children to stay away from all drains and filters.
  • Check to see for yourself if the drain is broken or looks flat. If you have concerns, inform the owner or operator and avoid swimming.
  • Tie long hair back.

Swimming can and should be fun for everyone. Thanks to the advocates who brought us the VGB Act, safer drains and back-up systems have been installed across the country to help prevent drowning. Even so, remember to exercise caution around any body of water to keep you and your children safe. Learning how to be a good swimmer is an important part of preventing drowning—and it opens a lifetime of fun and exercise. Sign up for a swimming class at SwimJim today!