According to Barbara Byers, Public Education Director for the Lifesaving Society, of great concern is the spike in drownings in 2010 amongst children under five years of age, with 22 reported drownings in 2010 versus 14 in 2009.
“It’s important that all Canadians be vigilant when they are in or around water, but when it comes to children we need to be extra careful,” says Byers. “Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children, and the reality is that it can happen very quickly, in as little as 10 seconds. Parents and caregivers should always stay within sight and two feet of young children when near water. Anything further away than two feet is not ‘within arms’ reach’ and it is simply not safe.”
While basic swimming skills are critical to prevent drowning, the Society estimates that about half of Canadian children never take traditional swimming lessons. And to address this, the Society continues to expand and encourage the use of its “Swim to Survive” program, which teaches the essentials needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water.
As one who speaks from experience, deep water is often misinterpreted, and drowning can take place within a matter of minutes even in shallow water.
Way back when, when I was five or six years old, I did not know how to swim, but loved to go to the beach with my sister and play in the shallows while she swam. At one of our favourite spots, a small lagoon area (not more than two feet deep) was cordoned off with floating logs so non-swimmers and children could enjoy the water in a fairly safe environment. So while my sister swam, I would paddle around on an old air mattress as I pretended to be a mermaid. On one such excursion, the sun was warm, I was sleepy, and I rolled over onto my back and let the air mattress drift around the enclosure as I lazed away the afternoon.
Next thing I know I’m in water over my head! My lungs are full of salt water, and no matter how hard I fight I can’t get up to the surface! I can’t breath – I’m terrified – I’m dying!
Suddenly, I felt a hand grab the hair on the top of my head and I’m jerked into that oh so glorious air! I’m not dead, I’m alive!
As I cried and spit up water my lifesaving sister told me that I had fallen asleep on the air mattress, and in my sleep had rolled onto my side, which in turn had tipped over the mattress, and consequently dumped me into the water face first! Because I was asleep when this occurred, my shock in waking up underwater had confused me so much I didn’t realize I was actually laying face down with my knees just touching the bottom. All I had to do was stand up! But instead I continued to try to claw my way forward to get out of the water; which in fact was taking me in the opposite direction!
My sister said she saw it all happen, started to laugh when I got dunked, and then expected to see me stand up. When I didn’t, but instead continued to flail around in the water, she rushed over, grabbed my by the hair, and saved my life.
Would I have drowned if she hadn’t intervened? I’m firmly convinced the answer is “yes”! Even today, 55 years later, I can vividly remember that awful feeling of drowning and knowing that I couldn’t get to the surface! It’s not a feeling that I particularly want to remember; but at least I can remember it – I did survive!
Teach your kids to swim as soon as they are able, and don’t take your eyes of them even for a minute when water is in their vicinity. Seeing them grown up and keep their own kids safe around water will be all the thanks you’ll need.