Learn to Swim – When are you safe to go in the lake?

Mick & Sue Nelson, mick@totalaquatic.llc sue.nelson@totalaquatic.llc
Web: Total Aquatic Programming LLC
TAP phone: 719-238-1561 or 719-238-1381

One of the PRIME DIRECTIVES of going in the water is that you can never be totally safe, you can only be better prepared.

We are fortunate, in this country, to have an abundance of choices for swimming lessons.  This should be of primary importance for every child and adult. Every reputable swim curriculum has progressions.  Too many times a parent removes their child from lessons before they have learned all of the skills necessary to carry them through life on this planet that is over 70% water.

There are many “swim schools” that do not even teach advanced learn to swim techniques and open water safety protocols.  This is an issue that propagates our drowning issues. Some basic stats:

28,775Total Drownings
 Creek/StreamGulf
Pool*LakeRiverOceanPondBathtubDitchWaterparkHot Tub
5659784980403065222757941765159
19.7%27.3%27.9%10.7%7.7%2.0%1.4%0.2%0.6%
12-uTeenAdultFemaleMaleHispAfrAm 
6737334418694500823,76723701855 
23.4%11.6%65.0%17.4%82.6%8.2%6.4% 

Detailed stats are available at www.totalaquatic.llc and are updated the first few days of each month.  The chart above shows that 74% of all drownings are in “open water”.   Lakes-Rivers-Oceans-Ponds.  Most swim lessons are taught in pools in a controlled environment.  Can we do a better job preparing our clients for the open water swim experience?

Learn to swim curriculums have an opportunity to teach their students the open water safety skills that may save their lives.  This can be a separate advanced session, or some basic skills can be incorporated into regular lessons. The main point is, we need to do a better job teaching and preparing!

Open water swimming is different than pool swimming. Having the skills to move properly in the water can save your life and potentially those of others when they get into difficulty.  There is something mystic about the way water attracts people of all ages, but especially children.  Swimming can save your life if you happen to fall into water.  It also has tremendous benefits for health and wellness. It’s great for cardiovascular fitness and endurance, without the high impact of going for a run. It’s also great for building muscle, boosting heart and lung health, and an ideal way for those looking to lose a few pounds.

One of the things that is different from swimming in a heated pool is that open water is usually a lot colder.  How to handle this needs to be part of the preparation for the open water experience.

First and foremost, having the ability to float and swim a basic breaststroke can keep you safe. Learning proper techniques can save your life.  After learning the skill to relax and stay on top of the water, breath control is paramount.  Both of these skills are usually perfected in the swimming pool then properly applied to open water.

Open water is unpredictable, and conditions can change in seconds. Some things to be aware of:

  • Text Box:  Wind – storms
  • Currents and riptides and waves
  • Floating impediments like logs and weeds
  • Aquatic creatures that will sting or bite
  • Poor water clarity
  • Bacteria and algae
  • Other people in boats or jet skis

What and when can we add open water to the pool curriculum?  This should be addressed by your current staff professionals but here are some things that may help:

When – if a swimmer can comfortably and proficiently swim one length of a pool (usually 75 feet) on their front and back, it is time to introduce some basic open water education.  The use of Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s or life vest) needs to be stressed.  Stats show a vast majority of accidents could have been prevented simply by wearing a PFD.  There is really no “best age” to start this education.  It is more of an ability and coordination factor of the student rather than age.

What – There are many important things that can be taught.  Here are some of them:

  • Proper breathing techniques – to help remain calm
  • Treading water for at least 3 minutes
  • Floating on back for at least 5 minutes
  • Swimming with head out of water.  
  • Freestyle stroke breathing equally well to both sides.
  • All of the above in a wavy pool
  • All of the above with clothes and shoes on and how to disrobe
  • How to handle a cramp
  • Canoe and Kayak safety
  • Paddle board safety
  • General boating safety
  • What to do if caught in a rip current
  • What to do if caught up in underwater weeds
  • Proper use of a snorkel, mask, fins
  • What to do to help someone in trouble while protecting yourself
  • What to look for before getting in the water.  Guards, lifelines, warning signs and flags, surrounding areas, other people using beach or in water.
  • Stress “never swim alone”

All of the above can be learned in specialty water safety courses, but we should also be teaching them in our advanced learn to swim classes.  This promotes student retention and developing safer more prepared swimmers.  When a student has “learned to swim lengths of the pool” they can continue to hone their aquatic skills.  They can consider aquatic sports, or increasing their water safety skills and becoming lifeguards, or swimming for health and wellness, or just taking part in recreational water activities.  Each one of these activity paths will require the swim school to offer on-going classes and certifications.  The benefit to the swim school is longer retention of the client and the client becomes a lifelong advocate of aquatic safety.

  • DESIGN your marketing and awareness plan for programs. Advertising your swim school offers this type of education can set you apart and above your local competition.
  • DEVELOP your curriculum and staff training.  How the staff conducts the classes is super important.
  • DELIVER your services to promote a safe and fun experience.  How you deliver will promote positive Word of Mouth advertising.

For assistance on any of the above contact Sue Nelson sue.nelson@totalaquatic.llc

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