Celebrating 100 Years of Red Cross Aquatics

Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, founder of the Red Cross Water Safety Program and members of the YWCA Life Saving Corps. (Source: Red Cross photo archive.)
Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, founder of the Red Cross Water Safety Program and members of the YWCA Life Saving Corps.

For the past 100 years, the American Red Cross has helped millions of kids, teens and adults learn how to swim and become lifeguards and instructors. In our Northern Minnesota Region last year, more than 47,500 people took Red Cross Learn-to-Swim, lifeguarding or water safety instructor classes.

This month, during the Red Cross Aquatics Centennial, celebrating 100 years of Red Cross water safety education, we’d like to encourage everyone:

  • to make sure that they and their families can swim
  • to know basic water safety
  • to know how to respond to an emergency

We feel a particular urgency for promoting the steps above because a new national survey conducted for the Red Cross found that 80 percent of Americans said they can swim, only 56 percent of those self-described as swimmers can perform all five basic, or “water competency,” skills for swimming ability:

  • step or jump into the water over your head
  • return to the surface and float or treat water for one minute
  • turn around in a full circle and find an exit
  • swim 25 yards to the exit
  • exit from the water; if from a pool, exit without using a ladder
New survey shows only 56 percent of self-described swimmers know water competency skills.
New survey shows only 56 percent of self-described swimmers know water competency skills.

Overall, the survey found that 54 percent of all Americans can’t swim or don’t have basic swimming ability. Moreover, only 33 percent of African-Americans reported having swimming, or some basic water skills. While 51 percent of white Americans reported the same.

The numbers do not lie. There is a great need for people to take steps for learning how to swim. And so, during our aquatics centennial, the Red Cross kicks off a campaign that seeks to cut the drowning rates in half in 50 cities in 19 states. This campaign will take place in 10 cities this year and expand to all 50 cities in the years ahead.

Here’s some good news: Minnesota is not among the 19 states. Why? It has a low drowning rate compared to other states. And yet, 40 people drowned in non-boating water emergencies in 2012 (most recent reported year from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources). You can help bring down that number.

Adults and children should know how to be safe in the water. In the land of more than 11,800 lakes as well as more than 6,500 rivers and streams…and who knows how many swimming pools…parents and swimmers should learn about water safety and know how to respond to an emergency. To find an aquatics center offering Red Cross swim classes near you, click here. To find other health and safety, such as CPR and First Aid, click here.

Have a great summer!

*The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross April 17-20, 2014 using ORC International’s Online CARAVAN omnibus survey.

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