Too often here at West Bend we receive frightening near-drowning claims. These claims can result in serious injury and many times the victims are children. A child who can’t swim wanders into the deep end during a pool party. A child who’s supposed to be wearing a lifejacket takes it off and no one notices. A child who can’t swim tells her parents she will be in another area of the Y but instead decides to go swimming with her friend. These dangerous scenarios happen all the time.
Many times the adults in these situations are unaware that the children can’t swim. This is where a strong swim testing policy can be extremely helpful. We’ve detailed our recommendations for swim testing in our Aquatics Best Practice Guide. We recommend all swimmers under age 18 be swim tested if they’re going to use the deep end. Preferably, swimmers would be tested each time they come to swim. While this can seem daunting for many organizations, a good testing system can make the pool much safer.
Many organizations use a system with different colored wristbands to identify swimmers allowed in the deep end of the pool. This makes it easy for lifeguards to quickly identify a swimmer who’s in the wrong area of the pool and may need help. If possible, lifeguards shouldn’t administer the swim tests, especially if they are guarding alone. Another aquatics or administrative employee can be trained to administer the test so the lifeguards’ focus can stay on the pool.
There are many guidelines for what should be included in a swim test, from organizations like the Red Cross or Aquatics International. We recommend, at a minimum, that the swimmer be able to swim at least 50 meters of an acceptable crawl stroke and tread water for two minutes immediately afterwards. Other variations of a swim test may be acceptable. The test should be hard enough that non-swimmers wouldn’t be able to pass. It should adequately demonstrate that the swimmer is comfortable and confident in deep water.
It’s challenging to implement a strong swim testing program; however, it shouldn’t take a tragedy to make organizations realize what must be done. If there’s a drowning, the damage to an organization’s reputation in the community is serious. And what’s much worse, a life is lost. Swim testing all swimmers under age 18 can go a long way to minimize this risk and save lives