The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the sad fact that more than 3,500 people drown each year in the U.S, making drowning the leading cause of death in children 1 – 4 years old. Even more sad, minorities drown at a rate three times higher than their peers.

Diversity is directly linked to the opportunity to be water safe. As we are well aware, aquatics suffers from lack of diversity, enforcing a system where the access to learning how to swim and gain water competency are not the same for everyone.

Between 1999-2010, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-18 years old and is most pronounced in swimming pools. African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites. This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years in which African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites.(1)

Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn how to swim, and choosing water-related recreational activities may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates. Available rates are based on population, not on participation. If rates could be determined by actual participation in water-related activities, the disparity in minorities’ drowning rates compared to whites would be much greater.(2)

Many organizations and advocates are striving to bring swimming to minority communities and thus reduce the incidence of drowning among them. Here are a few that you can support:

Diversity In Aquatics 

The drowning and participation gaps in aquatics mirror the disparities we find in public health and education, often ignoring the ongoing historical issues of race, socioeconomic circumstances, and cultural stereotyping. Therefore, a revamped focus is needed to address and help curve the current gaps found in aquatics.

Founded by Dr. Shaun Anderson and Jayson Jackson in 2010, Diversity In Aquatics is an organization built to develop a network to help save lives by empowering communities to have equitable access to quality aquatic opportunities. They work to address historical policies and practices that impact resource allocation and access to public spaces to understand present-day aquatic disparities.

Afroswimmers

AfroSwimmers is a swim movement that offers lessons and aquatic wellness services for people of color, founded by swim coach and aquatic healer Noelle Singleton.

AfroSwimmers boasts a facility in Atlanta where programs — including competitive coaching, aquatic therapy, and private swimming lessons — are offered to help break down barriers between the Black community and swimming.

Black People Will Swim

Black People Will Swim’s sole mission is plain and simple: it’s smashing the stereotype that Black people don’t swim. Their end game is to make a difference in the world of aquatics.

They aim to do this through a number of ways with their acronym F.A.C.E. encouraging their community to FACE their fears.

Swim Uphill

Founded by paralympic swimmer Jamal Hill, this organization has made it its mission to take justice against senseless drownings by promoting water safety competency through the Swim Uphill method in underserved communities around the globe.

Black Kids Swim

Black Kids Swim is a 501c3 organization based in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Their mission is to increase Black participation in the sport of competitive swimming. They also offer their consultancy services to aquatic facilities that wish to include a diverse group of adults and/or children to their programs.

The Josh Project

The Josh Project is a drowning prevention agency dedicated to water safety training and education. Their mission is to build basic swimming skills and knowledge of water safety to prevent drowning.

SwemKids

SwemKids is nonprofit school-based program that teaches children introductory swimming lessons and water safety skills as a part of their school’s curriculum. This model ensures that children are exposed to the water early and gain important life-saving skills to make sure they are safe while having fun!

Black Swimming Association

The Black Swimming Association (BSA) is a non-profit organisation set up to promote education among the Black community as well as other ethnic minority communities on water safety and drowning prevention measures.

They strive to ensure that the issues that preclude these communities from engaging in aquatics are researched, understood and  adequately addressed to promote inclusion and change.

  1. Gilchrist J, Parker EM. Racial/ethnic disparities in fatal unintentional drowning among persons aged ≤29 years—United States, 1999–2010. MMWR 2014;63:421–6.
  1. Branche CM, Dellinger AM, Sleet DA, Gilchrist J, Olson SJ. Unintentional injuries: the burden, risks and preventive strategies to address diversity. In: Livingston IL, editor.  Praeger handbook of Black American health (2nd edition): Policies and issues behind disparities in health. Westport (CT): Praeger Publishers; 2004. p. 317-27.

Floaties – Puddle jumpers, water wings, ring floaties, neck rings. We believe they all have one thing in common:

They each contribute to child drownings.

We believe this is how:

All of them automatically put children in a vertical position in the water and that is the drowning position. It’s the exact opposite position to the life-saving, horizontal position that learning to float on their backs and then to swim teaches them. Puddle Jumpers teach children’s muscles to remember that drowning position, so that when they get into water, their bodies will automatically get into that position, whether they have the device on or not. This makes drowning faster!
They all teach children to bicycle their arms and legs, in order to propel through the water. This is commonly known as treading water, but it expends huge amounts of energy and kids cannot keep it up for long enough to get rescued or save themselves. They tire out in less than a minute and will then drown.
All of these devices prevent kids from learning to reach their arms out in front of them for any swimming stroke and from putting their heads in the water to help them get into a horizontal (swimming and breathing position) in the water.
Puddle Jumpers contribute to water phobia because they don’t allow much water on the face and therefore don’t allow children to become used to the water being on their faces. If the water does hit their face in an emergency situation, the child is more likely to panic and freeze and then not be able to help themselves.
All of these devices create a false sense of safety for the child when used in the pool, during swim or play times. The child thinks they can swim as they have built confidence in the water (because they have been wearing the device every single time they are in the water). They then don’t know how their own bodies react in the water without a flotation device on and they don’t make the connection that the device is what keeps them floating and not themselves. They think that they are floating on their own. So, when the opportunity arises for them to get into water (even when they aren’t supposed to be in it), they are much more likely to do so without the device and without a parent, thinking they can swim on their own, when they really can’t.

This false sense of safety does not commonly happen when flotation devices are only used in open water, most likely because when they aren’t using a device at the pool (which is most children’s learning to swim place), the child learns about what their own bodies can and can’t do in the water and they realize they can’t float or swim on their own yet.
All of these devices create a false sense of safety for adults. Adults tend to not be as vigilant around the water when they put their kids in these devices. So, as an example, during a break when a parent might be attending to another child, their little one may have their device off temporarily and because the parent has trained themselves not to have to be as vigilant, they have a lapse in supervision for a few seconds. In that time, the little one can easily end up in the pool without the device that holds them up in the water and can drown! It only takes 30 seconds! A young child CAN and they often DO sneak off when you are even briefly distracted!!!
None of these devices are Coast Guard approved except the Puddle Jumper.
Puddle Jumpers are Coast Guard approved but at the lowest level possible-below life buoys, which are only meant to throw to someone and quickly pull them out of the water. Puddle Jumpers are not reliable as a safety measure in any water that is not completely calm. They are marketed as a “swim aid”, but NO device is a swim aid.

Flotation devices of any kind should never be used as a swim aid because of the reasons above.

Instead, children should learn to float on their backs and then learn survival swim techniques, as well as always having one-on-one touch supervision (a parent or adult never being outside of an arm’s reach of a non-swimmer) in and around the water.

It has become very popular for parents to use flotation devices in places they were never meant to be used (like the pool), thinking that’s what keeps the kids safe. But it doesn’t! During the time they are in the water, the devices keep them floating, but we believe they also teach them all the points above.

Most child drownings happen when it’s not swim time-meaning they happen when kids sneak back to the pool without you, after swim time is over, and that means they won’t have the device on at the time they drown. If they learn what their bodies can and can’t do in the water by not using the devices, they are much less likely to sneak back to the water, because they will know by their experience that they can’t swim and thus, the drowning won’t happen.

Life Vests are the only safe floatation device and we believe that even they should NOT be used at a pool. They should only be used in open water like oceans, lakes and rivers (where it is very important that they are used). Life Vests were made for open water. They were never meant to be used in pools.

Pools are where kids learn what their own bodies can do in the water. They need to do that without a flotation device on, to develop respect for the water. They need to have lessons that teach them to float on their backs so that they can breathe and wait for help, and then need to learn to swim so that they can rescue themselves. They need you to always stay within an arm’s reach of them while in or around water, until they learn to swim on their own. They need you to never put them back into the device while learning to swim or after they have learned, because the devices will unteach them all of the skills they have learned in lessons.

That’s why we say NO to floaties! Join us in our mission to make sure all children are taught to float, all parents know the dangers of floatation devices during swim times, all Puddle Jumpers and floaties stop being used at all and Coast Guard approved life vests are used in open water, but not in pools with little ones.

Bring us your Puddle Jumpers and other floaties and let us help you choose life saving survival swim lessons instead!

For more information on how YOU can help with this campaign, please contact Annette Courtney at annette@judahbrownproject.org or Christi Brown at christibrownsky@yahoo.com.

Please visit nofloaties.org to sign our Puddle Jumper Pledge! You taking this pledge will help spread the word to other moms and dads that puddle jumpers and floaties are not safe for our young children in the water!

The message that these devices are ok to use with our kids was spread from parent to parent. Please help us reverse this misguided information, by spreading the truth about these devices from parent to parent by talking about it with as many parents as you can!!

The follow links to information related to Michigan HB 6190:

The following is a petition available via Change.org requesting that pools are given permission to open and remain open:

The following is a petition available via Change.org relating to the need to teach every child how to swim in the state of Florida:

The International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC)

Drowning is still a leading cause of accidental death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1–4, the second leading cause for children under 14, and remains in the top five causes of accidental death up to age 55. Drowning is reported as the fifth leading cause of accidental death in the United States overall. It is worth noting that more children ages 1–4 die from accidental drowning than motor vehicle accidents. We seem to be in a repeating circle as our drowning numbers in the United States remain nearly steady year after year. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that 163 children fatally drowned between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2017; nearly 70 percent of them were children under the age of five. What can give us all hope is that drowning is a 100-percent preventable accident.

Prevention is the most important weapon against drowning and other aquatic incidents. Prevention is not a new concept when it comes to water safety. However, there is now a tool that puts prevention and safety at the forefront for both residential and commercial pools. The International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC) is one of the most important documents ever to come out for the industry and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) is proud to support it. It contains everything a pool contractor needs to make the pool safe and operate efficiently. You may ask yourself why consistent codes and standards for pool and spa construction are important for the health and safety of the public. The best answer is that the ISPSC sets the minimum standard for pool and spa safety by substantially reducing the risk of child drowning through introducing or enhancing requirements for residential pools and spas. The adoption of the ISPSC can reduce drowning accidents by requiring barriers, compliant design and slopes for entry and exit, work towards the elimination of entrapment incidents once and for all, and ensure that pools and spas are built using approved and safe materials. As you can see, the ISPSC goes well beyond addressing safety.

Mandating change seems to work when dealing with pool and spa safety. Over 10 years have passed since the passage of the only federal law for pool safety in the United States. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB P&SS Act) has made a significant impact on the safety of commercial pools and spas. The mandating of unlockable drain covers and the installation of other anti-entrapment devices has resulted in no entrapment deaths in commercial pools and spas since the law was passed. Additionally, the access to safety information and advice for the consumer has increased substantially with the creation of the Pool Safely Campaign under the CPSC. It is important to note that when adopted, the ISPSC will mandate the same level of safety protection for residential backyard pools and spas that the VGB P&SS Act requires for public pools and spas. In addition, the CPSC has recognized the jurisdictions that have adopted the ISPSC as being eligible to apply for CPSC’s pool and spa training funds.

Organizations such as the NDPA and the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA; formerly the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals) have encouraged pool operators and owners to employ as many layers of protection as possible around swimming pools and spas. Simply put, the concept of layers of protection is a multi-faceted approach that includes a mix of supervision, barriers, alarms and safety devices to lessen the chance of a tragic incident. The more layers of protection put in place, the less chance an incident will occur. Layers of protection often include the following: fencing and barriers around water; self-closing, self-latching gates; hard-shell pool covers; door, window, gate and water alarms; ensuring the pool or spa has met all required codes; having rescue equipment near the pool or spa; learning CPR, first aid and teaching everyone to swim; always having responsible supervision around the water; and keeping the pool and spa area secure and free of toys and other attractive nuisances when not in use.

As simple as these safety steps can be to employ around a pool or spa, many unsafe pools and spas still exist. Since 2000, the fatal drowning rates in the United States have not seen a substantial drop. It is more imperative than ever that solutions are brought forward that can begin to make important and much-needed steps in the right direction. The ISPSC is an important part of the solution. The ISPSC is one of a kind as there is no other comprehensive model swimming pool and spa code available that addresses all types of pool and spas and all aspects of construction and design. Even though most states and local jurisdictions have some form of existing pool codes, most lack a comprehensive code or law that addresses all aspects of design, construction, and safety of residential pools and spas. Many jurisdictions around the country lack even minimal barrier and/or suction-fitting requirements in residential pools.

As a uniform building code that has been (as of this writing) adopted in 20 states and 171 local jurisdictions, the ISPSC is playing a vital role in changing the nature of safety in backyard pools and spas. When reviewing the ISPSC, one of the first things that comes to mind is the requirements for specific safety steps around pools and spas, including barriers and the use of alarms. As cited by national agencies and organizations, barriers and alarms are one of the most important components to reducing unsupervised pool access by children. While any type of new regulations can be a hard sell, this particular regulation is important for the pool and spa industry. We must make it our mission to make pool and spas safer to reduce both fatal and non-fatal drownings and other aquatic injuries. Creating safer pools and spas is essential to reducing the incidence of drowning. The ISPSC is a much-needed step in the right direction for both the commercial and residential industries in our goal of making water safer.

To contrast the impact of the ISPSC, there are approximately 300,000 public pools and spas currently protected by the VGB P&SS Act and in comparison, close to 13 million backyard pools and spas that are not. Adoption of the ISPSC achieves this goal. The objective must be to get the ISPSC adopted into law in order to have residential pools and spas achieve the same level of mandated safety protection that the VGB P&SS Act requires for public pools and spas. Simply put, the ISPCS, when adopted becomes the “VGB P&SS Act” for residential pools. Drowning impacts so many people each year and a promising tool is here to help. It is time to mandate change and implement the ISPSC so that our staggering statistics change for the better.

Statement of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance in Support of the International Swimming Pool & Spa Code

The International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC) is a model code that regulates the minimum requirements for the design, construction, alteration, repair and maintenance of new or substantially re-modeled swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and aquatic facilities. This includes public swimming pools, public spas, public exercise spas, aquatic recreation facilities, permanent in-ground residential pools and spas, and permanent residential pools and spas among other water venues. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance supports the adoption of the ISPSC in states and local jurisdictions around the country. Many states and local jurisdictions have already done just that. More should follow suit.

Developed in collaboration with the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, (PHTA; formerly the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, APSP), ISPSC adoption provides many benefits supporting the safety and health of water. If adopted, the code requires pools and other water facilities to: meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act; meet the APSP–7 standard for suction entrapment avoidance; require layers of protection around pools and spas that help prevent the unfettered access by children, including fencing, covers, and door and window alarms; and ensures that water quality is healthy and safe, among many other safety and health provisions.

This article was originally published by the Building Safety Journal. Read it here.

Read the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance’s press release here.