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Anti-Drowning Campaign Urges All to Learn how to Swim Safely

The American Red Cross is stepping up efforts to reduce drownings, and urged people across the country to make sure they and their families can swim safely.

This year marks 100 years of Red Cross swimming safety education, and the Red Cross is making a multi-year push to teach more people to swim safely.

“As we all gear up for trips to the pool, beach, rivers and lakes, we're asking that adults here in Maine make water safety a priority this summer,” says said Brad Rounds, Health & Safety Lead Training Specialist.. “Families need to make sure that both adults and children have the knowledge and skills they need to be safe in and around the water.”

The Red Cross drowning prevention campaign comes as a national survey shows that people believe they are better swimmers than they actually are. The survey, conducted for the Red Cross, found that while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.

These critical water safety skills, known as water competency, are the ability to: Step or jump into the water over your head; Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute; Turn around in a full circle and find an exit; Swim 25 yards to the exit; and Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.

Every day, an average of 10 people die in the U.S. from unintentional drowning — 20 percent of them children 14 or younger — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children, and sixth for people of all ages. In addition, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Overall, the Red Cross survey finds that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills. Other key survey findings are:

  • One in three (33 percent) African Americans reports that they can perform all five basic swimming skills, compared to 51 percent of whites. The survey showed that 84 percent of whites and 69 percent of African Americans say they can swim.
  • Just four in ten parents of children ages 4-17 report that their child can perform all five basic swimming skills, yet more than nine in 10 (92 percent) say that their child is likely to participate in water activities this summer.
  • Men are significantly more likely than women to report that they have all five basic swimming skills (57 percent for men compared to 36 percent of women.)

The survey found that nearly half of Americans (46 percent) report that they have had an experience in the water where they were afraid they might drown. In addition, one in five (19 percent) said they knew someone who had drowned, and 20 percent knew someone who nearly drowned.

Many People Planning Summer Water Activities in Areas Without Lifeguards

The Red Cross drowning prevention campaign begins as summer gets underway, and eight out of 10 Americans are planning water activities, such as going to the beach, pool, water park, or boating or fishing this summer. A third of all Americans plan to swim at a place this summer without a lifeguard.

While stronger swimming skills would reduce the risk of drowning, the Red Cross survey found that only two percent of adults plan to take swimming lessons this summer, and about one in five children (20 percent) are likely to take swimming lessons this summer.

“Parents and caregivers should take advantage of the summer months to enroll children in Red Cross swim lessons and download the free Red Cross Swim App to track their progress,” says Rounds. “Parents and caregivers, in addition to learning how to swim, should also know critical water safety rules and know how to respond to a water emergency, so they can protect children and others.”

The Red Cross will seek to reduce the drowning rate by 50 percent in 50 cities in 19 states that have high numbers of drowning deaths or high drowning rates by teaching 50,000 more people to swim in those communities over the next three to five years.

Red Cross swimming lessons help people develop skills and water safety behaviors that help people be more comfortable and safe when they are in, on and around the water. The Red Cross encourages all household members to enroll in age-appropriate water orientation and Learn-to-Swim programs. To find classes for your family, contact your local aquatic facility and ask for American Red Cross swimming and water safety programs.

The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross April 17-20, 2014 using ORC International’s Online CARAVAN omnibus survey. The study was conducted among a national sample of 1,024 American adults, including 201 parents of children aged 4-17. The total sample is balanced to be representative of the US adult population in terms of age, sex, geographic region, race and education. The margin of error for the total sample of 1,024 adults is ±3.1 percent; the margin of error for the sample of 201 parents is ±6.9 percent.