Water Safety – The Importance of Knowing How to Swim

Water Safety – The Importance of Knowing How to Swim

The statistics are frightening. Approximately 10 people drown every day in the United States. And in the African-American community, children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida loses more children under the age of 5 to drowning than any other state, with most of these happening in swimming pools.

Learning to swim – and learning basic survival skills starting at a young age – is critically important.

In South Florida, we are fortunate to enjoy tropical weather, almost year-round, and have access to inviting bodies of water – swimming pools, the ocean, canals, and lakes all around us. But for children and adults who don’t know how to swim, this situation can prove to be very dangerous.

Formal swimming lessons, which are offered at YMCAs, community parks, and by private instructors, can help protect young children from drowning and have been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of drowning.

However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision is advisable. Monitor their activity when they are in the water. Setting up barriers, such as pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access, are still important even with swimming lessons.

Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervising preschool-age children should provide “touch supervision,” meaning they are close enough to reach the child at all times.

Drowning occurs quickly and quietly. While supervising children who are swimming, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity, such as reading, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn.

In the African-American community, more focus needs to be placed on teaching children how to swim.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children of the same age range. Research by the USA Swimming Foundation indicates that up to 70 percent of black and Hispanic children cannot swim.

Studies have shown that learning how to swim is often not a high priority in minority households, where many parents and grandparents never learned the skill.

Parents who don’t know how to swim should make swimming lessons a family activity. Not only will it be fun, but it is a lifelong skill that can make the difference between life and death.

The Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department offers swimming lessons at sites throughout the county. Children are taught to swim by certified American Red Cross Water Safety instructors. Various levels of courses are offered for children and adults. Contact your local Miami-Dade Parks pool or go to the Miami Dade Drowning Prevention Coalition website http://www.miamidadedrowningpreventioncoalition.org/ for additional information.

Cindy Magnole is the injury prevention coordinator at Jackson Memorial Hospital and a longtime registered nurse. She is chair of the Miami-Dade County Injury Prevention Coalition and an executive board member of the Miami Dade Drowning Prevention Coalition. Cindy can be contacted at jhs-injuryprevention@jshmiami.org.