Swim to survive

By: Alison Dunn Jun 25, 2010
  Article

What you need to know about staying safe near water this summer

Summer in Canada is almost synonymous with water. Perhaps it’s our almost infinite number of freshwater lakes, rivers and ponds, the two oceans that surround us, or just our many home and community swimming pools, but for most of us, summer means spending time either on, near, or in the water.

But there's a dark side to all that blue water. Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under the age of 10, according to the Lifesaving Society. And typically, two thirds of drowning victims don't even intend to actually go swimming in the water – and most of them know how to swim.

"The majority of drowning deaths are people who know how to swim, and almost 70 per cent of them are within 15 metres of safety," says Sindy Parsons, public education manager with the Lifesaving Society. Those are pretty scary statistics for anyone who likes to spend their summer near water.

Water safety skills for everyone

According to Parsons, the three biggest water safety skills everyone should learn is how to roll into the water, how to tread water and how to swim 50 metres to safety. Those skills are the backbone of the Lifesaving Society's Swim to Survive program – a program that teaches both children and adults how to survive an unexpected trip into the water so they don't become another statistic.

The key, Parsons adds, is not to panic when you fall into water. That happens too often; a person falls in, becomes disoriented, panics and actually starts swimming in the wrong direction. By the time help arrives, it's often too late.

Instead, if you do fall in, the Swim to Survive program recommends that you:

  • Blow bubbles to reorient yourself. If you do fall in unexpectedly, blow a few bubbles, Parsons recommends. The bubbles will move in the direction of the shore, which will help you orient yourself.
  • Tread water for a minute. Once you've oriented yourself, take one minute to tread water so you can shout for help if it is nearby. If you've fallen out of a boat, keep a hand on the boat, Parsons adds. "A boat is much more visible than a little person floating around on his own."
  • Get into a life jacket, if possible. If you're not wearing a life jacket (although if you're on a boat, you should wear one at all times) and one is accessible, now's the time to get one on. The Swim to Survive program teaches both adults and children how to put a life jacket on while in the water – consider taking the course for that reason alone.
  • Start swimming. It doesn't have to be pretty – it just has to be effective. The Swim to Survive program teaches you how to swim 50 metres any way you can. If you find you're getting tired, try rolling on to your back where it's easier to breathe. "Even when you roll on your back, you can continue to kick your feet and move your arms so you don't have to stop your motion," Parsons says. "And if you're really tired, stop, rest and then continue."

The Swim to Survive program is offered to adults and children of all ages, and is also offered free of charge to grade three students in schools across Ontario.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.