Children are fascinated with the current created by a swimming pool’s circulation system, often sticking their hands or feet in its path just for the thrill of feeling the powerful force of the suction. Litigators like to refer to such a thing as an “attractive nuisance.”

That “nuisance” is compounded by the aging of America’s pools, inconsistent construction standards and millions of unaware consumers.

Occasionally, drain covers break, or are removed by people who don’t know the possible repercussions. When this happens, a swimmer playing with the drain can become stuck to the outlet much the way the hose of a vacuum cleaner sticks to your palm. The force of a pool’s suction can be tremendous: 350 pounds of pressure for an 8-inch main drain with a standard pump. This “suction entrapment” will hold the bather in its grip until either the vacuum is broken, or he or she drowns, defying the rescue efforts of onlookers.

There are five types of suction entrapment:

  • Body entrapment (a section of the torso becomes entrapped).
  • Limb entrapment (an arm or leg is stuck in an open drain pipe).
  • Hair entrapment or entanglement (hair is pulled in and wrapped around the grate of the drain cover).
  • Mechanical (jewelry or part of the bather’s clothing gets caught in the drain or the grate).
  • Evisceration (the victim’s buttocks come into contact with the pool suction outlet and he or she is disemboweled; this is very rare).

Some of the solutions offered by the pool and spa industry include the elimination of single-source suction. Remember the vacuum cleaner hose mentioned earlier? Imagine there are two hoses connected to the same motor, and one is covered by your palm. Air would travel through the other hose, interrupting the suction to your hand. The same concept can be applied to pools and spas by building dual main drains instead of a single one.
Another solution lies in a number of safety vacuum release systems, aka SVRS. These devices are designed to shut off the pump when they sense an excessive vacuum buildup.

Finally, there are anti-vortex covers. These fittings are molded in a particular way to prevent entrapment and hair entanglement. Though the spa (shown above) where Graeme Baker died had an intact drain grate, it was neither equipped with dual main drains nor an anti-vortex drain cover.

Taken together, these systems make up what anti-entrapment advocates refer to as “layers of protection.” Many believe that if such measures become mandated standards, the suction entrapment problem will go away.


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Find additional articles and more information on the VGB Pool and Spa Safety Act on our online resource center.