Why Portable Pool Fences Aren’t Safe

Now that summer is nearly here, it’s time for more sun and fun in your backyard areas. But if you have a backyard pool or spa, you’ll need a robust fence to control who has access to your pool, especially when you’re away. After all, unless your property line is sealed, children may make their way into your pool without your knowledge, and that can lead to an accident or worse.

Unfortunately, some homeowners may errantly think that a portable pool fence is a good alternative to a permanent fence that can block access in the absence of a supervising adult, but they’re often less safe and can introduce a whole new set of dangers to your pool area. Additionally, many states and municipalities actually require safety pool fencing that abides by specific guidelines as to height, rigidity and installation — and you likely won’t be able to satisfy those demands with a portable pool fence, nor should you want to.

The reason fencing is needed is that children may be enticed towards the pool even if it’s not swimming time. The glistening of the water and toys or other items in the water can draw young children in — and they won’t know that no one’s watching them if they have easy access to the pool from the backyard. 

The Dangers of Drowning

While it’s every parent’s biggest fear, drowning in a backyard pool is exceedingly common. In fact, after accounting for birth defects, drowning is the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4. Even if your attention is only misplaced for a second, a child can often make their way to the pool without being spotted, particularly when there are obstructed sight lines involved. 

It’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends being vigilant whenever there is a pool on the premises — even in the case of a hot tub or an inflatable pool. And, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), drownings under the age of 4 happen almost 70 percent of the time when there was no expectation that the child would be in the pool area; in almost half of the instances, the child was last seen inside the house, not in the backyard or around the pool.

The Importance of a Pool Fence

Whether your backyard pool is a permanent, in-ground pool or a temporary portable pool, a fence is required. Even if you’re just setting up a pool for the day and you plan on being around, you’ll need some kind of pool barrier to prevent small children from accessing the water in those times when adults are distracted or elsewhere. 

That’s because most drownings for children under the age of 4 occur in a pool or spa at home. While each story is different, there are certain commonalities that typically start with the child wandering out of the house and into a pool area that wasn’t fenced off from the home. Sometimes they slip out a door — other times they crawl out windows or through doggy doors — and it’s often the case that the parents or a chaperone was unaware the child was even outside.

More than a quarter of the time, drownings happen at a neighbor’s or a friend’s house. There may be no national safety pool fencing law, but some states and cities are wising-up to this danger and mandating that all pools within their jurisdictions have sufficient fencing. If your state or city doesn’t have this requirement, it’s still a good idea to have a fence around any pool or hot tub in the backyard.

Pool Fencing Requirements

From portable pool fencing to permanent installations, a pool fence should be at least four feet tall and have four sides, completely encasing the pool itself. Even if you have fencing around your backyard or the pool is in an area that seems safe, you’ll need a fencing option that can keep any unauthorized access out, especially when you’re not around.

In addition to certain height requirements, a pool fence must be climb proof. That makes many portable pool fencing options a no-go since they’re not locked into place by concrete and other permanent fixtures. Sure, you may save some money on that portable pool fence, but it’s not really providing the safety that you might expect. If there are any nearby obstacles that children can stand on to gain leverage or to help them scale the fence — or otherwise compromise the design — that portable pool fence may be little more than a short-lived barrier to unwanted pool access.

The vertical slats on pool fences must also be no more than 4 inches wide, which helps keep small children and pets from squeezing through the gaps. Some poor fencing options may feature slats that are too wide or that lack the strength to resist prying, which negates the whole point of a pool fence in the first place.

As for the entrance into the pool area, experts suggest that the fence should have a self-latching and self-closing gate that opens away from the pool area, and that the latch itself should be situated towards the top of the fence, or at least 54 inches from the ground. That will put the latch out of a child’s reach, but still make it easy for adults to get in and out.

For those times that the pool is not in use, the gate must be able to be locked — either with a mechanism on the handle itself or a simple padlock that can be threaded through the gate — preventing anyone from accessing the area. It’s also a good idea to keep all toys and items out of the pool when it’s not in use. Toys may entice a child to enter the pool area on their own, and getting everything out of the pool communicates that the pool is off limits.

What About Alarms or Pool Covers?

It’s an unfortunate truth of pool drownings that there’s rarely an indication that anything has happened at all until a body is found. Any sort of struggle or thrashing about is often too quiet to break the din of the day’s festivities, and a secure fence is still the best way to prevent unauthorized access to any pool area. 

But an alarm can help give you an additional layer of protection along with that fence. Alarms can be placed at the pool gate, at the back door, or on ground-level windows, though a pool alarm is something that listens for screaming or a sudden burst of activity in the pool, alerting you so that you can spring into action before something happens. 

Some may believe that pool covers represent an alternative to a pool fence, but a cover is much less safe than you may think. To provide security, a pool cover must not be easily pulled up or retracted more than a few inches. The pool cover may be huge and heavy, but if a child can slip under a corner, that cover isn’t providing any sort of actual security. Additionally, the cover itself needs to not collect water on top since children can drown in as little as a couple inches of water. 

Note that typical solar and winter pool and spa covers are not security covers and shouldn’t be treated as such. Additionally, floating covers may be the worst of the bunch because a child could try to climb on top, getting sucked down as their weight pushes the cover in.

A Portable Pool Fence Isn’t Good Enough

Given the requirements and what you need from your pool fence — four feet of height, four inches between each slat, a self-latching and self-closing gate out of the reach of children, a lock and no climbable features — it’s true that a portable pool fence is wholly inadequate. Most temporary fencing isn’t rigid enough to adequately protect your pool from unauthorized access, and over time it can get even worse as that temporary fence starts to wear and wiggle to a point where it may not provide any meaningful protection at all.

While parents should always be around whenever kids are in the pool, it’s hard to keep 100 percent of the focus on the pool area. You could always assign a water watcher, but if they’re on their phone or involved with other activities, they’re not giving their undivided attention. A permanent pool fence is one of the only proven ways to minimize the chances of an unfortunate accident, and when combined with other strategies it can help make that backyard pool a source of fun and excitement, not cause for worry or dread.

Beyond a good fence and some kind of pool supervisor, it’s also a good idea to outfit young children with life jackets or other buoys that can help keep them above water if they should inadvertently fall in. To help enhance their swimming skills, it’s a great idea to enroll your children in swim lessons — or demand swim lessons or certifications for all kids that swim in your pool. 

For the adults, it’s a good idea to get CPR training so that if an accident does happen, an adult can help. And if your child goes missing, make it standard practice to check the pool first. Time is of the essence, and seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

All that said, the first place to start is with a secure and strong pool fence. Here at Aluminum Fences Direct, we sell robust aluminum pool fencing that you can install yourself at home. Click here to get started.