Many swimmers come up short in water-safety skills

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by JAKE WHITTENBERG / KING 5 News and MICHELLE HEALY / USA TODAY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jakewhittenberg

KING5.com

Posted on May 20, 2014 at 3:59 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 20 at 9:25 AM

Think you can swim?

A new survey by the Red Cross, days before the Memorial Day weekend, finds most Americans could not perform life-saving actions in a water emergency.

Fifty-six percent of adults who say they can swim can perform five critical water-safety skills that could save their lives.

Sixty-seven percent of those asked mistakenly believe that putting inflatable arm bands, or "water wings," on children is enough to keep them safe when an adult is not nearby. These are not lifesaving devices, according to the Red Cross, and children. It recommends that weak or inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets while remaining under constant adult supervision.

The telephone survey polled 1,011 adults, 18 years and older.

The Red Cross says there are ways to test your swimming level. You should be able to float or tread water for one minute without a flotation device; step into water over your head and return to the surface; tread water or float in a full circle and then find a way out of the water; exit a pool without using a ladder and; swim 25 yards without stopping.

Read the full survey

Among other findings from the study:

•56% of adults who say they can swim say they have never taken a professional lesson; 37% say they taught themselves.

•Fear of the water (30%) is the most commonly cited barrier keeping non-swimming adults from learning to swim.

•39% of parents of children ages 4-17 report that their child can perform all five basic swimming skills; 92% say that their child is likely to participate in water activities this summer.

•33% of black adults say they can perform all five basic swimming skills, compared to 51% of whites; 84% of whites and 69% of blacks say they can swim.

•20% of parents expect that their child will take swimming lessons this summer.

A CDC report released last week noted that about 21,000 children and young adults drowned from 1999 through 2010, and that drowning is responsible for more deaths among children aged 1–4 years than any other cause except birth defects. For people aged 29 and younger, drowning is one of the top three causes of unintentional injury death.

A 2010 study commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation and conducted by the University of Memphis found that nearly 70% of black children and nearly 60% of Hispanic children have low or no swimming ability, compared to 40% of white children.

To help address this problem, the Red Cross today launched a campaign to reduce the drowning rate by 50,000 in 50 targeted cities over the next three to five years through increased swimming lessons, water-safety education programs, and added training opportunities for lifeguards and water-safety instructors.

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