Drowning is Preventable: Know the Facts, Reduce the Risks

Written by Melissa Anderson

Although swimming, kayaking and boating are some of the most popular summertime activities, they can be some of the most dangerous, as well. At the Y, we are dedicated to always keeping kids safe, including when they’re in the water. In the same way we highlight child abuse prevention every April, May is the month we discuss drowning prevention tips, skills and resources with parents and caregivers. Drowning is preventable, and the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City is committed to providing vital water safety information to the members of our community.

To emphasize the necessity and importance of safe swimming practices, we have included a few facts about drowning below.

  • Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4. According to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), drowning takes between 3,500 and 4,000 lives per year. This is an average of 10 fatal drownings per day. 
  • 88% of children who drown were under adult supervision. 23% of child-drowning incidents occur during family gatherings near a pool. 
  • 60% of children who drown are within 10 feet or less of safety.
  • Drowning happens quickly and quietly. It takes as little as 20-60 seconds for a victim to slip below the surface. Most drowning victims are unable to wave their arms or call for help. 
  • Fatal Drowning is defined as drowning resulting in death. Non-fatal drowning, although it does not result in death, likely comes with lifelong consequences including severe brain damage. 
  • Boating-related incidents are estimated to result in 1 fatal drowning for every 5-10 victims who require hospitalization for non-fatal drownings. 

These numbers and facts are likely difficult to process, but knowing the risks of swimming helps to reinforce the need for safety around water at all times. The YMCA is committed to helping to provide families and children with safe swimming experiences. Part of this commitment includes the use of a “Test, Mark, Protect” system within our aquatics programs. Aquatics staff use this system during open and camp swim times, and it is similar to what the NDPA calls the “Layers of Protection” approach.

  • Test – at our YMCA locations, all swimmers under the age of 13 must take and pass a swim test to swim in deep water.
  • Mark – swimmers who pass our swim test are marked with a bright-colored wristband to alert lifeguards, staff, and adults that they have passed the test.
  • Protect – Non-swimmers, defined as those under 13 years old who cannot pass the swim test, will wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and remain in shallow water with appropriate adult supervision. 

This approach provides multi-layered protection for our most vulnerable swimmers and is one of the many ways in which the Y helps provide a safe swimming experience for all.

We believe everyone should learn about water safety, which includes basic lifesaving skills. To learn more about how you can keep your family and loved ones safe while swimming year-round (not just in the summer), check out our previous blog post which features our top five water safety tips. There, you’ll also find information about YMCA swim lessons and our Safety Around Water course.


“Stay in the Know: Drowning Quick Facts”. National Drowning Prevention Alliance. ndpa.org 

“Water Safety Tips: Water Safety for Safety Sake”. YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. indymca.org

Melissa Anderson is the Aquatics Director at Midwest City YMCA.

A Lifesaving Program From Your Local Y

Written by Sarah Boydstun

When I thought about what to write for this blog article that would help articulate the impact of dollars given to our Annual Campaign, my mind started racing in many different directions. However, as the Aquatics Director for the North Side YMCA, it was only natural that my first thoughts settled on water safety for kids.

Not enough people think about drowning as a leading cause of death for kids…and why would they? It’s certainly not a fun topic. Unfortunately, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 0-19 years old1. On top of this, for every child who dies of drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Even though it’s 2021 and most parents know the dangers of kids being unsupervised around water (and that many groups and organizations offer swim lessons), kids still drown or are injured as a result of preventable water-related incidents every day.

The Y recognized this growing problem in the early 2000s and went to work to create an outreach programming for basic water safety instruction. The program brought candidates into our facilities who, based off of statistics and data, were most likely to drown. Its aim was to “drown-proof” kids so that if and when they accidentally found themselves in a submersion situation, they would be able to survive to safety. This programming was provided at no charge, but the participation was minimal.

We found there were barriers other than cost that were associated with parents getting their children to participate in this type of program. The Y soon pivoted and began to partner with school districts to provide the program during the school day and included transportation to and from the campus. Our numbers skyrocketed; the Center for Disease Control even recognized the Y in its findings for decreased child drownings since 2000 (down 28%).2

The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City’s drowning prevention program, “Safety Around Water” has continued to grow. Prior to the pandemic, we were serving over 35 classrooms and 600+ kids each year.

I’m amazed every time I sit down and do the poolside introduction for a new classroom of students and ask the question, “How many of you have been to a pool before?” The lack of hands that go up is shocking. Again, I’m not asking how many know how to swim or have had a swim lesson. I’m just looking to see how many have been to a pool or know basic things about being safe around water.

While we have made tremendous strides in teaching thousands of OKC kids these life-saving lessons over the years, there will always be a new group of kids growing up and beginning to toddle around a pool where they could be in a potentially life-threating situation. Plus, we’ve lost a whole school years’ worth of kids who normally would have gone through our water safety programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s such an important one to keep in mind when donating to the Y. The urgency is great to keep Safety Around Water funded and active for years to come.

As passionate as I am about swimming and water safety, there are so many other life-altering programs our Annual Campaign funds. I’ve sat with cancer survivors in our Livestrong at the YMCA program (a free 12-week physical activity program designed to get cancer survivors back on their feet) and listened to them talk about their newfound strength and friend group – so thankful they cry tears of joy. I’ve helped with our afterschool feeding program and had kids tell me how it’s their only meal from mid-morning when school serves lunch, until the next morning at school breakfast. The Annual Campaign makes all this and more happen.

That’s why it’s easy for me when this time of year rolls around and we ask people like you to support the Y through a donation to our organization. I hope this article has given you a peek behind the curtain and that you are moved to join us in our cause!

Click here to donate to this year’s Annual Campaign which will help us offer these community programs.

1 https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

2 https://www.safekids.org/sites/default/files/fast_facts_ow_drowning.pdf

Sarah Boydstun is the Aquatics Director at the North Side YMCA.