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Drownings happen quickly, and fatality rates increase dramatically the longer a swimmer is submerged. Two Ph.D. researchers in Austin, Texas, set out to assess technology that enables staff at commercial pools to recognize drowning incidents as quickly as possible. They chose the WAVE Drowning Detection System due to its simplicity and reliability in detecting submerged swimmers, and because it is actively used in pools around the country.

In the latest issue of the International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science, Dr. Molly Johnson and Dr. Karla Lawson published the first-ever peer-reviewed study on the real-world effectiveness of technology used to prevent drowning at pools with large groups of children. The findings indicate a breakthrough in drowning prevention, with 93% of lifeguards and staff surveyed agreeing or strongly agreeing that using WAVE could help save someone’s life. Another 80% said WAVE helps lifeguards be more aware of how long swimmers are underwater.

The WAVE Drowning Detection System looks like a simple headband, but it has a superpower: it can help save someone you love from drowning. The system uses a lightweight headset or clips that attach to goggles to measure how long a swimmer’s face is underwater. If a swimmer is underwater for too long, lifeguard bracelets start to vibrate. If a swimmer remains submerged, an alarm sounds.

“We have the technology that can greatly reduce the chance of a drowning impacting any family,” said Mark Caron, the co-founder and CEO of WAVE, in a press release. “Aquatics directors across the country have told us WAVE is changing the way their lifeguards behave. They’re more engaged because they’re working closely with a system designed to enhance their jobs.”

Survey Details

The study examined a WAVE system in use at a pool with 40–60 children in it at all times. The alerts generated by WAVE highlighted risky behavior by the children, like breath-holding or doing handstands. This kind of play is discouraged by lifeguards due to the danger it poses if the child cannot get back to the surface before they need air, a phenomenon known as Shallow Water Blackout.

According to Dr. John Fletemeyer, the executive director of the Aquatic Law and Safety Institute, who was not involved with the study, “Those of us in the drowning prevention community have been waiting for a technology that is affordable, highly accurate and reliable, and simple to set-up and use. It’s great to see the WAVE technology being verified in the field and viewed so positively by lifeguards and staff.”

WAVE products are designed to supplement, not replace, vigilant human supervision.


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John Reecer

John Reecer is an assistant editor at Peake Media.

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