The average daily drowning rate in the United States is 11 people, with an additional 88 suffering life-altering brain and spinal cord trauma. Ninety-five percent of these tragedies are preventable.
Swim skills and water safety knowledge, while complementary, are not the same thing. Swim skills are physical skills helping you move through water effectively and efficiently. Water safety knowledge is intellectual. There are many barriers to learning actual swimming skills. Affordability, accessibility, lack of prioritization, and lack of facilities and trained staff are just a few. In our lifetime, the likelihood is that the majority of people will never learn how to swim. However, everyone can learn about water safety.
Understanding water dangers
Drowning is a leading cause for death for children aged five and younger, with most drowning at home. Educate caregivers about the dangers not only of home swimming pools, but also bathtubs, toilets, buckets, even a pet’s large water bowl. It only takes two inches of water and two minutes for adults or children to drown.
Outside, go to different types of water — from a swimming pool (the most stable) to ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans (the most volatile) — and view how each of those bodies of water has their own unique nature, behavior, and dangers. Even skilled swimmers need to modify their approach to each of these bodies of water in order to successfully navigate them.
Understand water throughout the seasons. Warm season is April through November. Tropical storm season is May through November. A hurricane in Miami intensifies our rip currents along New York beaches. Rip currents are found in large lakes, too. Storms continue to increase in strength, frequency, and damage they cause. Storms are no longer just a problem along our coasts, but inland as well. There is a new phenomenon called “sunny day flooding” which has nothing to do with rainfall. Instead, supermoons create a super tide surge, causing flooding on roads and sidewalks that traditionally were dry. In winter, we still have people falling through ice, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Urban water education
New York City is undergoing a triple threat: water levels increasing 1 to 1.5 centimeters per year, increased water-related weather issues, and our waterfronts being developed as never before in our lifetime. This is providing more access to different bodies of water to 8.5 million citizens, most of whom do not understand the nature, behavior, or danger of that specific body of water, nor do they have swim skills. We can certainly expect our drowning and water-based accident rates to rise.
The bottom line is we can no longer avoid the water. We all need to be educated as to how to deal with water on a daily, not recreational, basis.
New York City specifically is an aquatic desert. Its Parks Department has the largest footprint of public pools. However, of the 58 of them, only 12 are actual swimming pools and only six of those are available year-round. With 8.5 million people and only six year-round swimming pools, even if we had the financial ability (at an average of $1 per minute to teach swim lessons), we would not have the actual pool infrastructure nor lifeguard and instructor staff to accomplish this.
This stark reality is why we must mandate water safety education in our schools. Far too many people will never learn to swim, but everyone can learn about water safety. If we do not prepare our youth, they will not be able to navigate the realities of our changing environment, and many will die needlessly. Our children deserve this knowledge.