A young, Asian girl waves at the camera, as she is in the midst of taking swimming lessons at the YMCA. Smiling for the camera, she is also captured with her goggles on her head, in the shallow end of the pool.

The Number One Drowning Myth

We’ve all seen the movies and television shows that feature a scene with drowning—there is typically a lot of yelling, lots of splashing over a long period of time while onlookers attempt to understand what is happening and then perform a rescue.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has taught us to look for the wrong things when it comes to water safety. Drowning is by and large silent—a person struggling for air cannot scream, and more likely you’ll see a person bobbing slightly up and down in the water with little to no splashing.

We know that 88 percent of drownings happen under adult supervision. At first glance, parents and caregivers may think a child is playing, but instead, that child is struggling. The fact that drowning is silent makes it all the more important to watch children closely when water is around—whether that’s a swimming pool, lake, ocean, or even bathtub.

The Importance of Water Watchers

It’s best to swim where lifeguards are present and actively watching the water, but in certain situations—for example, a home pool—you may be without a lifeguard. When that happens, the Y wants you to assign a Water Watcher. A Water Watcher is an adult assigned to monitor the water. While there may be other adults present who are also present, this person’s role is to stay completely undistracted and monitor the water. This means no phones, no books, no conversation, and no quick runs to the cooler for water or a snack!

This job can be taxing, so the Y suggests adults take turns as Water Watcher every 15-20 minutes. You can sign-up to be a Water Watcher here. Ask other adults that are “on duty” to take the pledge. And remind each other not to get distracted while being the Water Watcher. Of course, if you are in a large group, ensure that you have enough Water Watchers to ensure the safety of all.   

The Number One Water Safety Rule

Any time children are going to be near water, there are rules involved—wear sunscreen, walk/don’t run, no pushing, etc. But here at the Y, there’s one rule that outweighs all the others: Never get in the water without an adult’s permission.

Teaching children this rule from a young age helps keep them safe by always alerting you when they intend to wade, swim or even take a bath! We know children can be impulsive so this is a rule that needs to be repeated time and time again. Just as you might repeat to a child every time they’re about to cross the street, “Look both ways,” you can also repeat this water safety rule each time you’re getting into the water together: “Ask permission before you get in the water!” If you make this part of the process of swimming, it is more likely to become a habit for children.

Children—especially young children—move so quickly, sometimes they can see a body of water, jump in and be in trouble before their caregiver even realizes the child is no longer by their side. You want your child to ask for permission to go in the water with the same routine and muscle memory that you buckle your seatbelt with.

Here at the Y, we believe that every person deserves access to water safety classes, no matter their circumstances. Each year we provide hundreds of swimmers financial assistance to take Swim Lessons to ensure that all families have the skills they need to keep them safe, opening up a world of possibilities for all!

Swimming is an Essential Skill, Not a Privilege

There are three categories of Y Swim Lessons, take our lesson selector to find the right stage for you:

  • Swim Starters develops water enrichment and aquatic readiness in children ages six months to three years. This category focuses on developing swim readiness skills through fun and confidence-building experiences. Parents also learn how to supervise children in the water, how to prevent accidents and how to plan for emergencies.
  • Swim Basics develops personal water safety and basic swimming skills in students of all ages. Swimmers develop a high level of comfort in the water by practicing safe water habits, engaging in underwater exploration, and learning how to swim to safety and exit if they fall into a body of water.
  • Swim Strokes introduces and refines stroke technique in older students (school age, teens and adults). Having mastered the fundamentals, students learn additional water safety skills and build stroke technique, developing skills that prevent chronic disease, increase social-emotional and cognitive well-being and foster a lifetime of physical activity.

How to Help Someone Struggling in the Water

Our tips have all focused on how you can help add layers of protection to help keep you and your family safe around water. One more layer is ensuring that you know what to do in a water emergency. No matter the situation, the Y wants you to remember four simple phrases:

  1. Call
  2. Reach
  3. Throw
  4. Don’t Go

Call—The first thing you need to do when you see someone struggling in the water is to call for help. If there is another adult, or an older child/teenager have them call 911 while you work to help the person in the water.

Reach—Lay on your stomach and attempt to reach the person in the water using something such as an oar, long branch, pool noodle or something similar. See if the person has the strength to grab on to the item and use it to help pull them to safety.

Throw—If the person cannot grab ahold of the item or if there is nothing long enough, attempt to throw them something that floats in the water. They can then use this to keep them afloat until further help arrives. Objects that float can be a, ball, ring buoy, an empty picnic cooler, or a closed, empty water jug.  

Don’t Go—In open water or a pool, it’s very important not to follow the person into the water as a struggling person may accidentally drag another person into the water or dangerous waters may make it unsafe for you to assist. Continue working to bring the person to safety from the shore or from the edge of a pool until professional help arrives.

Learn more about the Y’s swimming lessons at a YMCA location nearest you!