Two in ten people planning to swim, boat or fish this summer cannot swim well, according to a new American Red Cross survey.

The survey1of more than 1,000 adults, taken earlier this spring, found that 78 percent of households are planning at least one water-related recreational activity this summer. However, 21 percent describe their swimming skills as fair, poor or non-existent – with 3 percent unable to swim at all.

“Water safety is important for swimmers and non-swimmers alike, and the best thing anyone can do to help stay safe during water-related activities is to learn how to swim,” said Rhonda Zampetti, NJ Territory Aquatics Specialist for the American Red Cross.

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Proper adult supervision is essential during water activities, as the survey showed that half of those surveyed will be in charge of supervising a child near a pool, lake or other body of water this summer.

“Most adults realize that leaving a child temporarily unsupervised near or in the water is never acceptable, yet, sadly, every year lives are lost because of this,” Zampetti added.  

Children should not go near or enter the water without the permission and supervision of an adult. Those who own a home pool should secure it with appropriate barriers and install pool and gate alarms.

The Red Cross recommends designating at least one adult to solely be responsible for watching those in and around the water - even if a lifeguard is present. Adults should be in the water with inexperienced swimmers and remain within arm’s reach of them.

This “arm’s-reach supervision” is safer than putting water wings or floaties on a small child, as these items are not designed to keep a child’s face out of the water and can leak, slip-off and provide a false sense of security. However, the survey found that a third of the survey respondents (32 percent) mistakenly believed that the floaties were safer than arms-reach supervision.

More Men Know How to Swim than Women

According to the Red Cross survey, men were more likely to know how to swim than women (92 percent versus 82 percent) and 29 percent of those 65 and older could not swim at all.

Men were more confident in their abilities to handle water emergencies than women. For example, more than half of men (54 percent) said they could safely handle a situation where someone is in water over their head, compared to 36 percent of women.

Water Safety is Important for the Entire Family

The survey found that nearly 6 in 10 people who can swim said that they learned to swim between the ages of 5 and 10, but water safety should be a life-long commitment.

The Red Cross has been a leader in aquatics training for more than 95 years and has developed a comprehensive program starting with Parent and Child Aquatics (6 months to about 5 years old) through lessons for adults. Participants learn swimming skills with a strong emphasis on drowning prevention and water safety.

Water safety tips and information can be found on People can contact 1-800 RED CROSS to find out where Learn-to-Swim programs are offered.


About the American Red Cross in your area:

Local Red Cross programs and services include disaster preparedness education and response services; life-saving skills training such as CPR, AED, First Aid, and water safety; armed forces emergency services, transportation and blood services.

The Colonial Crossroads Chapter has served the residents of Berkeley Heights, Chatham Borough, Chatham Township, East Hanover, Florham Park, Long Hill Township, Madison, New Providence, Springfield and Summit since 1917.  To find out more about the local Red Cross, how you can donate your expertise, time, money or blood; or to help your family, business, or community prepare for emergencies, please visit


1 Details: Telephone survey of 1,085 adults U.S. Adults 18 years and older on April 7-11, 2011, conducted by ORC International.  Margin of error is +/- 3.0 percent at the 95% confidence level. Polling included total sample of 175 African-American adults, with 82 included through a second wave of telephone interviews. Where appropriate, comparison values from a March 2009 poll have been included: Telephone survey of 1,002 U.S. adults 18 years and older on March 20-23, 2009, conducted by CARAVAN® Opinion Research Corporation.  Margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent at the 95% confidence level.