Does the teaching of water safety and swimming reduce the incidence of death by drowning?

TitleDoes the teaching of water safety and swimming reduce the incidence of death by drowning?
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsWilson-Saliba, L, Patterson, L
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other NumbersPO-13

Context: In 2001, the Lifesaving Society Canada introduced the Swim for Life swim program. The program was intended to provide an innovative Learn to Swim program that was designed to teach skills specifically intended to improve personal survival in common water-related incidents. Research presentations and a panel discussion at the 2002 World Congress on Drowning1.questioned whether acquisition of swimming skills contributed to drowning prevention. Questions were raised about whether traditional Learn to Swim programs with an emphasis on distance swimming, specific swimming stroke skills and time standards effectively prepared participants to protect themselves in the typical conditions that lead to drowning fatalities. Swim for Life was designed to answer these questions.

Results and Discussion: The development of the Swim for Life program drew on research from the Lifesaving Society’s comprehensive study of every unintentional water-related death in Canada since 1990. It also included research into swimming instruction participation rates, retention of participants within swimming programs, barriers to success in skill acquisition and teaching strategies to maximise learner success. In 2007, a revised version of the program was introduced that incorporates research and experience from the previous 5 years.

As a swimming skills program, Swim for Life was designed to work in concert with the Lifesaving Society Canadian Lifesaving Program to address 3 key dimensions of drowning prevention education:

  1. Personal self rescue and swimming skills to survive a water-related incident such as a fall into deep water. This includes the orientation, support and propulsion skills required to survive an incident as well as more advanced swimming skills to provide the capacity to safely enjoy water sports and activities.
  2. Water Smart® safety education about personal choices to avoid or reduce risks.
  3. Lifesaving skills to rescue others.

Swim for Life incorporates 3 program priorities for learning outcomes and success:

  1. First priority - teach the essential personal self rescue (Swim to Survive) skills at the earliest possible point in the program. This is designed to teach the participant the most important personal survival skills as early as possible and before the majority of participants are likely to stop participating in a Learn to Swim program. For school age children, this is accomplished in the first 3 levels of the 6 Swimmer levels. In addition to personal swimming and self rescue skills, participants also learn to make Water Smart choices to control their risk of becoming involved in a water-injury incident. Our experience has confirmed that the program is very successful in achieving this first priority.
  2. Second priority - develop skills that include a full range of swimming competencies in addition to swimming strokes. Reinforce positive attitudes about swimming as a fun, challenging activity as well as a valuable life skill. Feedback from participants and their parents indicated high success in skill acquisition as well as retention of swimmers within the program.
  3. Third priority - provide a skill foundation that prepares interested participants to continue with more advanced aquatic training such as learning lifesaving skills, competitive aquatic sports or becoming aquatic leaders such as lifeguards and swimming instructors. From the Swim for Life program, participants enter the Canadian Lifesaving Program where they learn water rescue skills and acquire the ability to rescue others. They can proceed further to become lifeguards and swim instructors. In all locations where the Swim for Life Program was delivered, a key result was increased participation in Lifesaving Training Programs and Lifesaving Sport activities.

Following 5 years of delivering and evaluating the Swim for Life program, the Lifesaving Society has released the next generation of the program. This revision of the program builds on the successes of the first generation of Swim for Life by incorporating the results of feedback and evaluation by participants, trainers and program sites. The revisions are intended to improve early acquisition of drowning prevention skills, enhance swimming stroke development, and add more fun and excitement to the program.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Understand the results of Lifesaving Society drowning and program research and how it was applied to develop the Swim for Life Program.
  2. Become familiar with the Swim for Life program content and how it achieves the three program priorities.
  3. Understand how Swim for Life addresses questions and suggestions about the drowning prevention role of swimming raised Handbook on Drowning from the 2002 World Congress on Drowning.

Brenner at al, (2006), “Handbook on Drowning Prevention, Rescue, Treatment”, Joost Bierens, Springer, Heidelberg