Swimming and water safety skills are widely recognised as the key to preventing drowning, with a lack of swimming skills and water safety knowledge considered to be a major risk factor for drowning. Drowning in open water environments reinforces the importance of learning a full range of swimming, water safety and survival skills, and a knowledge of hazards and risks in different locations and situations. In order to reduce the rate of drowning while swimming, a strong focus on swimming and water safety skills is needed.
The development of swimming and water safety skills in children continues to be a concern, with up to 40% of children leaving primary school unable to achieve the minimum National Benchmark for swimming and water safety skills. Research shows that participation in commercial learn to swim programs declines before 8 years of age, well before many children have developed a comprehensive set of swimming and water safety skills.
Access to swimming and water safety education is not evenly spread across all populations. Research shows inequalities in rural and remote communities, those from lower socioeconomic areas, multicultural communities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are all less likely to be attending swimming and water safety education programs.
Little is known about the swimming competency and skill retention of adults. Adults drown due to a combination of factors, including a lack of swimming skills and water safety awareness, inexperience and risk-taking behaviour. Further work is required to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, ability and background has the opportunity to learning swimming, lifesaving and water safety skills.