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Red Cross says most Americans are “incompetent” at swimming

Families and children play at the pool at the Taylorsville Recreation Center in Taylorsville, Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (Photo: Chris Samuels, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Most Americans aren’t as good at swimming as they think.

The Red Cross surveyed people across the U.S. and found most people overestimate their swimming ability. Eight out of ten Americans said they are planning summer activities around the water but 54 percent of them can’t perform the basic swimming skills needed for water safety.

“This is a recipe for potential tragedy,” the Red Cross, Utah Nevada region, said in a statement.

To be considered a “competent” swimmer the Red Cross requires swimmers to be able to:

  • Submerge fully underwater, return to the surface and tread or float in the water for a full minute.
  • Swim in a circle and see above the water well enough to find an exit.
  • Swim at least 25 yards to that exit.
  • And pull themselves out of the water without a ladder as help.

Rich Woodruff, Director of Communications and Marketing for the Red Cross Utah and Nevada Region, said they are especially concerned about children’s safety in the water as 32 percent of the survey’s responders said they plan vacation near water without a lifeguard.

“They can get in trouble very very quickly,” Woodruff said. “A lot of people don’t realize that drowning is a very silent, quiet incident.”

Woodruff suggests introducing children to the water early on, so they aren’t terrified of it, and then introducing swimming lessons as they get old enough to do it safely. In a 2010 study, the American Association of Pediatrics argued that swimming lessons can start as early as age 1, while other experts warn kids may not fully remember lessons until they are at least four years old.

The Red Cross also suggests:

  • Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
  • Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
  • Provide close and constant attention to children and inexperienced swimmers you are supervising in or near the water. Avoid distractions while supervising.
  • For a backyard pool, have appropriate equipment, such as reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
  • Secure the backyard pool with appropriate barriers including four-sided fencing.
  • Know how and when to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
  • Never leave a young child unattended near water, and do not trust a child’s life to another child. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water. If a child is missing, check the water first.

Even if you follow all of the tips, Woodruff warns parents can’t plan for every disaster. In 2016, KSL covered the story of a Riverton toddler who nearly drowned in two inches of water when he fell into a cooler head first. The 13 month-old survived because his grandparents had just completed CPR training and got him breathing by the time emergency crews arrived.

“Hands only CPR is so critical in those first few moments,” Woodruff said. “We think anyone and everyone should learn CPR.”