Survival Swimming

What is survival swimming? 

The Royal Life Saving Society set an ambitious and important drowning prevention goal during its 125th anniversary year: “The implementation of Survival Swimming in every Commonwealth nation during 2016, at least to fledgling status”. 

For nations where survival swimming is in place, the challenge was to scale it up so that it is available to everyone, and to assist nations for whom survival swimming is not yet a reality. 

Survival swimming (the skills to survive an unexpected fall into deep water) is a life skill that every child should have. The goal is that one day, every person in the Commonwealth will have access to learn survival swimming. 

Why survival swimming? 

In its Global Report on Drowning – Preventing a Leading Killer, the World Health Organization identified 10 Actions to Prevent Drowning. The importance of teaching survival swimming lessons to school-aged children was one of them. 

This evidence was cited in their report: Bangladesh has developed and successfully implemented a survival swimming programme for 80,000 children in rural areas. In controlled environments, the children, aged 4-12 years, learned basic swimming and safe rescue skills, specifically: rescue techniques, how to tread water for 30 seconds, and swim 25 metres. 

Arming children with these life-saving skills can have a lifelong immunization-like effect against drowning. 

In a perfect world, everyone would take lessons to learn to swim. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, most people never have this opportunity. Even in developed countries, a sizable portion of the population never learns to swim. Meanwhile, the world’s non-swimmers who live, work, and play in, on and around the water – especially young children – are at high risk of drowning. 

Survival swimming, which has proven to be an effective drowning prevention strategy, has been implemented in many countries including Bangladesh, Canada, India, and others 

The implementation of survival swimming in every Commonwealth nation is not meant to replace traditional swimming lessons, but rather to teach the basic, fundamental skills necessary to survive an unexpected fall into water – an important first step to being safe around water. The focus is on survival and getting to safety.  

Survival Swimming Lesson Sharing Workshop 

As mentioned above, the 2014 Global Report on Drowning included recommended the teaching of survival swimming as one of the 10 actions to prevent drowning.

Since then, several publications have been released with practical guidance for key interventions, however, they are at a high-level synopsis with little detail on how to implement them within a low-resource setting and no detailed guidance on how to implement safety critical components.

The RNLI, with various partners, ran a forum for organisations already delivering basic survival swimming in low-resource contexts, to come together to identify and agree current best practice on the implementation of safety critical components. The summary report from this workshop can be found here. The output documents from the Workshop are currently being finalised and will be available early in 2023.