ISSA Position Statement #2 : Drowning Prevention

The benefits of swimming and water safety skills in drowning prevention.


Having appropriate swimming and water safety skills is an important element in  drowning prevention. They are not, however, a substitute for proper supervision – that  being constant, adult supervision in the case of young children. Swimming and water  safety lessons can result in becoming ‘safer’ – never ‘safe’, ‘drown-proof’ or the like. 

ISSA endorses a ‘layers of protection’ approach, where all layers should be in place.  The layers are based around having: (1) constant adult supervision, (2) proper barriers  in place; eg, having appropriate fences and gates around home pools, (3) swimming  and water safety skills, and (4) an emergency action plan. 

Ground-breaking research by the USA’s Government’s National Institute of Child Health  and Human Development (NICHD), in 2009, concluded: “Participation in formal  swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in 1 – to 4-year-old children”. (ISSA: see Suggested Resource 4). So powerful were these 

findings, that it caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to reverse its position  against swimming lessons for young children. 

To keep this research in perspective, note: “Swimming lessons are appropriate for  consideration as part of a comprehensive drowning prevention strategy,” said Duane  Alexander, M.D., director of the NICHD, the NIH Institute at which the study was  conducted. “Because even the best swimmers can drown, swimming lessons are only  one component of a comprehensive drowning prevention strategy that should include  pool fencing, adult supervision, and training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.” ISSA recognises that Swim Schools have an important role in also: 

  1. Providing valuable water safety education to students, their parents/caregivers  and the local community, and 
  2. Setting a good example in applying the layers of protection. 


Global Report on Drowning. World Health Organisation, 2014

Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016 – 2020. Australian Water Safety Council.

Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood. Brenner Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Health. 2009,from%203%25%20to%2099%25