Make it Mandatory

Make it Mandatory

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by Lianne Castelino

There have been 10 drowning deaths in the province of Ontario in the last week.  A variety of ages, the majority, children – all preventable.  This sad statistic has unleashed a torrent of reaction – calls to make life jackets mandatory in boats, calls to make lifeguards a fixture in all hotel and condo swimming pools.  The list is long.  The backlash loud.

I've always thought that drowning must be the worst way to die.  Why?  Because you can't save yourself, you know you are going and are unable to stop it.

Many people, believe swimming is a basic life skill.  I couldn't agree more.  Children should be taught how to swim from a very young age and encouraged to maintain and improve their swimming skills as they get older.  Any fear of water can likely be overcome if addressed when a child is young. 

However, for a variety of reasons – personal beliefs, socio-economic, cultural background, accessibility – swimming is not a universal skill.  What a waste, especially if it could be the difference between life and death.

What should be made mandatory is swimming lessons.  It may sound ridiculous, but think about it.  Providing access to this life-saving skill will pay dividends.  It will automatically dissuade any fears that parents may have about having their kids learn to swim.  

Most of the time, the central issue is exposure.  Lack of exposure or limited opportunity to engage in an activity dictates whether or not an individual pursues it.

Governments spend all kinds of money on laws, security, barriers, user and other fees – to address drowning prevention.  But how about truly proactive preventive methods like – mandatory, subsidized swimming lessons at a certain age by a certified instructor, followed by ongoing free access to swimming pools and instruction on an ongoing basis.  Surely, addressing the symptom of the problem rather than the after-effects makes more sense.

The idea is not to produce Olympic-calibre swimmers here.  (However, if that happens, then wonderful!)  And yes, it is possible for a trained swimmer to drown (for a variety of reasons). But why not try to proactively address the grim statistics of hundreds, even thousands of lives being cut short each year by something that is entirely preventable — which most drowning deaths are.

A must read: a chilling article on the reality of drowning.