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How three organizations are working to lower the national drowning rate through safety around water education and programs. 

According to the CDC, more than 40 people die by drowning every hour of every day globally. In the U.S., about 10 people drown each day. Of those 10, two are children under the age of 15. With these statistics in mind, it’s crucial your community recreation center is a place where all community members can learn how to be safe around water. 

One facility making this happen is the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

Kyle Kamman, the program executive for aquatics at the Seattle Y, said they believe even one drowning-related death is one too many, especially in their most vulnerable and underserved communities. 

“Our Safety Around Water program is part of the Y’s core mission to serve communities and advance justice and equity for all,” explained Kamman. “Our goal is to change the trajectory of the stark reality that Black and Brown youth and adults drown at an alarmingly disproportionate rate compared to white youth and adults. This is in part due to lack of access to pools and lessons, and we’ve made it our mission to teach every child how to swim.”

To do this, the Seattle Y is continually building community partnerships to provide access for all to their Safety Around Water program. 

“We don’t want to turn anyone away from learning how to swim and be safe around the water,” said Kamman. “With the support of Y donors and community partner grants, we recently increased our scholarship amounts to reduce barriers to learning to swim. The YMCA of Greater Seattle has been fortunate to receive swim access grants from Y-USA, Gabrielle’s Wings, No More Under, 101 Club Foundation and the City of SeaTac. Through these grants, we have been able to serve more participants and remove barriers, such as purchasing swimsuits and towels, and providing transportation and Y memberships to practice outside of classes.” 

In addition to community partnerships, the Seattle Y integrates Safety Around Water principles into swimming lessons. All swimmers are taught water safety before moving into learning front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke, butterfly, sidestroke and elementary backstroke. The lessons are focused on the rules and methods of Asking Permission, Swim-Float-Swim and Jump-Push-Turn-Grab. 

Another facility that is prioritizing water safety is the Riverbrook Regional YMCA in Wilton, Connecticut. 

Samantha Lusher, the director of aquatics and risk management at the Riverbrook Regional Y, said as an aquatics department with multiple aquatic areas — some of which include dark water — safety around water is huge. 

“We have an extensive swim school that begins with six-month-olds and continues all the way up to adulthood,” explained Lusher. “Secondly, for our recreational swimmers, outside of our lessons we have a band system which dictates where our swimmers can safely participate — whether in the deep end, shallow or anywhere in between. Our camp and preschool programs also have swim lessons that are a mandatory part of their curriculum.” 

More than swim lessons and a band system, the Riverbrook Regional Y has invested in a WAVE Drowning Detection System to add an extra layer of safety for its swimmers. 

Learn More: Water Safety for Children – Educating Your Community

WAVE is an early warning detection system that accurately monitors how long a swimmer’s face is fully submerged. If a swimmer submerges beyond the facility’s maximum allowable time, WAVE immediately alerts staff so they can intervene.

“The WAVE system is unique and is easily added anywhere we could need it,” explained Lusher. “Unlike other products, we did not need to drill into the foundation of the pool and regularly move it to each area of our facility to use. It allows the swimmer to be comfortable and our staff to know what is going on at all times. Our guards and supervisory staff have become more alert and interactive with our membership base as a result of the system. They are educating and interacting more regularly than before.”

If your facility doesn’t have the funds to invest in drowning prevention technology, educating your lifeguards and members on safety around water is still efficient. 

The Hopkins County Family YMCA in Madison, Kentucky, prioritizes safety around water by posting aquatics safety guidelines and always having a trained lifeguard proactively monitoring their pool.

The education side of things takes many forms, including explaining the rationale behind their pool rules to members and program participants, and sharing best practices around water with the community.

“At our facility and in our programs, we have accepted the awesome responsibility of providing a safe and nurturing environment for swimmers of all ages and skills to grow, and we take that very seriously,” said Josiah Staggs, the aquatics director of the Hopkins County Family Y. “That is why we remain so focused on all aspects of water safety throughout our aquatics programs.”

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death in children ages one to four years and ages 10 to 14 years, according to the National Safety Council. It’s vital you as a community hub take time to prioritize water safety in your aquatics programming. 

“Safety around water starts with educated staff,” said Lusher. “Lifeguarding classes and water safety classes are paramount in giving the younger generation an opportunity to decrease the drowning rate.” 

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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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