While pools and beaches are a source of fun for Canadian families during the summer, they also pose a risk for drowning. The Lifesaving Society has developed a program to teach school children three critical skills needed to survive a fall in deep water.

In Canada, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury death among children four and younger, according to the society. It is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under the age of 10.

In 2014, the World Health Organization published the first-ever report on drowning, deeming it a public health issue. It found that every day, more than 40 people lose their lives to drowning globally. Yet, despite the high death rate, there are no global strategies for drowning prevention.

The WHO issued a list of 10 actions that can help prevent drowning, and among them was to teach school-age children basic swimming and water safety skills.

Barbara Byers, public education director at The Lifesaving Society, said teaching school children basic swimming skills is similar to giving them an “immunization” against drowning.

“If we can teach children these skills while they’re young, then they can hopefully be safe for the rest of their lives,” she told CTV’s Canada AM.

To help teach Canadian children basic swimming survival skills, the society developed the “Swim to Survive” program.

The program teaches children three basic skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water. The steps are:

  • Roll into deep water: This will help simulate what it feels like to fall off a boat or off a dock.
  • Tread water for one minute: This teaches swimmers to get their adrenaline under control, calm down, and make a plan on how to get to safety.
  • Swim 50 metres: This will allow swimmers to get to safety, as most people who drown are located close to shore or the side of a pool.

Byers said with the last step, the key thing is to stick with the stroke you’re comfortable with, and not worry about form or technique.

She said another good water safety tip for parents and guardians is to recognize when someone is drowning.

There is a common misconception that when someone begins to struggle in the water they make a lot of noise and movement, Byers said. In reality, when someone is drowning they often slip under the water without making any noise.

“It’s very quick and it can be in 20 seconds and it’s very quiet,” she said. “Don’t think you’re going to hear them, because it’s so silent. It can happen right before your very eyes.”

Swimming skills are not just important for children to learn, they’re critical for adults as well, Byers said.

Adults who want to learn how to swim or who want to improve their current swimming level can take adult lessons at community centres across the country.

“Many people think, ‘I’m an adult it’s too late, I can’t learn to swim,’” she said. “But it’s never too late.”