“Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. . . . About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.” (“Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC goes on to state that for every child who drowns another five receive emergency room care for nonfatal submersion injuries, which can result in severe brain damage or other long-term injuries (memory problems, learning disabilities, and, at the extreme, a permanent vegetative state).
As I evaluated Church and BSA statistics I found that drowning has been one of the top five fatalities over the last several years. So why doesn’t the BSA simply avoid swimming altogether? That’s an easy answer: Swimming and other water activities account for more than two-thirds of outdoor activities; swimming is the second leading recreational pastime. We have come a long way since the first municipal swimming pool was built in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1887. Now swimming pools are everywhere—hotels, homes, schools, and almost all municipalities. If we add swimming and boating in oceans, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, water activities can be conducted almost anywhere. Because swimming is a popular and enjoyable way to get exercise and recreation, and knowing how to swim can save lives, it has become one of the most popular Scouting activities.
So how do we make swimming safer?
- First, become educated about safe swimming, boating, and other aquatic activities by carefully reviewing the BSA’s most up-to-date version of Aquatics Safety in the Guide to Safe Scouting. Two other resources for water safety information are the American Red Cross and lds.org.
- Second, before every swimming or aquatic activity conduct a Safety Moment by reviewing the appropriate BSA aquatic safety policies and discussing the dangers inherent in your specific activity.
- Third, as with everything else, “get trained.” Take the appropriate online training: Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, and Weather Hazards are all offered at my.scouting.org > Home > My Dashboard > Training Center > Other. Note this BSA policy: “Confirmation of training is required on tour and activity plans for trips that involve swimming.” Keep in mind that the certificates for these courses expire after two years and the course must be repeated.
Here are some other safety thoughts:
- A Tour and Activity Plan must be submitted “when conducting any of the following activities outside of council or district events [i.e. required for any outing or activity involving swimming or boating that is not sponsored by a district or council]: Aquatics activities (swimming, boating, floating, scuba, etc.) ” The website lists where to access the Tour and Activity Plan (as a fillable or paper form).
- Learn to Swim!—Learning to swim is the best defense against drowning (note the BSA’s requirements to be considered a “swimmer”: jump feet first into water over the head, level off, begin swimming, swim for 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
- Know and obey the BSA’s eight key safety points:
- Qualified Supervision
- Personal Health Review (each participant must have a BSA Annual Health and Medical Record).
- Safe Area
- Response Personnel (Lifeguards)
- Ability Groups (see the BSA’s definition of a swimmer indicated above)
- Buddy System
- Swim near a lifeguard. United States Lifeguard Association statistics over a ten year period indicate that the chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times greater than at a beach with a lifeguard. For swimming pools those comparisons are even greater.
- “Reach, Throw, Row, Go with support.” (BSA’s guidelines for water rescues).
- When in a boat, all non-swimmers should wear a properly fitted Coast Guard personal flotation (PFD) device. Water wings, swim rings, and inflatable toys are not personal flotation devices.
- No extended breath holding.
- Obey posted signs and flags.
- Learn rip current safety. Swim parallel to the beach don’t fight a rip current.
- Never swim during a thunderstorm. (Take Weather Hazards at my.scouting.org.)
- Cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli are all on the rise, especially in swimming pools. These are nasty bugs and care should be taken to avoid contact, especially from swallowing the water.
- No unsupervised long swims.
- Watch for hypothermia; cold water (even on warm days) can quickly chill the body core.
- For larger groups have an emergency action plan.
- Never, Never, Never swim alone!—This includes adults.
- Water activities prohibited by the BSA: cliff jumping, parasailing, and kite surfing.
While this list may seem long and definitely a potential fun killer, upon closer examination most make eminent good sense. A safety moment tailored to the event will drive the safety concerns home to both the adult leader and the youth participants. President Hinckley, although speaking to mission presidents could just as well have been speaking to all youth leaders—particularly Scout leaders—when he said:
“Please, observe and teach habits of safety and well-being . . . safeguard those in your charge. As surely as this is the Lord’s work, so the adversary will do all that he can to injure and destroy. Brethren, you are the guardians of those sent to work under your direction. You must be aware of the hazards they face. You must do all you can, and you must observe these same practices yourselves to reduce injury” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 27, 1997).
The aquatics program in your pack, troop, team, or crew needs to have dedicated and caring leaders who are trained in every aspect of their Scouting callings. President Hinckley reminded us of the important stewardship we have in protecting the youth we serve. The aquatics activities you and your Scouts participate in will help you experience exciting adventures, create lifelong memories, and afford many opportunities for the youth and leaders alike to grow and serve. Keep the guidelines of safety in your thoughts, in your actions, and in your prayers, so you and your boys will have a rewarding and happy quality experience in Scouting.
Contributed by: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Risk Management Division