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Swim Lessons to Prevent Drowning

Many adults and children report that they cannot swim or that they are weak swimmers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), swim lessons are beneficial for children older than 1 year of age. Participation in formal swim lessons was associated with an 88% reduction of drowning risk in the 1- to 4-year-old children. AAP also recommends that both children and parents learn to swim and learn water safety skills.

Swim lessons offer basic swim skills, such as how to enter and exit the water and how to propel oneself forward. Learning basic swim skills is important. However, to prevent drowning accidents and fatalities, it is crucial for swim lessons to also enhance water competency. Water competency is the ability to prevent and avoid potential drowning through an understanding about water safety and basic swim skills.

Rural programs should ensure that all swim lessons include water competency components that address topics such as:

  • Pool and cold-water safety
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and rescue techniques
  • Life jacket use

Examples of Rural Drowning Prevention Programs that Offer Swim Lessons

  • The Alaska Office of Boating Safety's Kids Don't Float Program started off as a life jacket loaner program but quickly expanded to offer educational lessons and activities on cold-water survival.
  • The Cold-Water Safety Children and Youth Educators Program was developed by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) in 1998 to train and build a network of educators to teach cold-water safety and survival training to school-aged children, teens, and the general community. The Cold-Water Safety Children and Youth Educators Program focused on reaching rural communities in northwest and western Alaska with little or no access to safety training. The curriculum is aimed at K-12 students. Today, the Cold-Water Safety Children and Youth Educators Program is known as the Marine Safety Training for Educators and Youth Leaders and covers topics including:
    • Cold-water safety and survival
    • Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs)
    • Outdoor preparedness
    • Hypothermia
    • 7 steps to survival
    • Rescue techniques
    • Navigation
    • Emergency signals
    • Risk assessment and management

Implementation Considerations

Rural programs should consider collaborating with partners such as local parks and recreation departments, aquatics centers, local swim schools, the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and local swim professionals to improve access to swimming courses in their communities for children and their parents.

Offering access to evidence-based water safety curriculums in schools can also improve access to swimming lessons in rural communities. School-based swimming lessons can enhance water-competency swim skills for all children, including those from low-income families, children from various racial and ethnic groups, and those with developmental disabilities.

Resources to Learn More

Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood: A Case-Control Study
Examines the association of formal swimming lessons for children and adolescents aged 1 to 19 years and the risk of unintentional death by drowning.
Author(s): Brenner R.A., Taneja G.S., Haynie D.L., et al
Citation: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 163(3), 203-210
Date: 3/2009