Swim safety warning

More than half of Australian kids are not getting swimming lessons.

There are growing concerns there could be a generation of non-swimmers following a significant fall in swimming lesson enrolments during the pandemic. 

A Swim Australia Swim Safer Report has revealed more than 55% of Australian children are not attending swimming lessons and 41% of parents have no intention of enrolling their child despite summer being the peak drowning season.

More than 30% of parents said they could not afford the lessons and 21.9% said they did not have the time to take them.

Swim Australia CEO Brendon Ward said the COVID-19 lockdown impacted learn-to-swim programs across the country with 40% of Swim Australia swim schools reporting a downturn of swimmers.

“More than 28% of Australian families are trying to teach their kids how to swim themselves despite 59% of them saying that they don’t have the basic water skills to do that,” Mr Ward said.

“This has a huge implication for water safety and drowning prevention in the future and we are really concerned that there will be a generation of non-swimmers.”

Mr Ward urged parents to prioritise swimming as a skill for every child.

“It is vital for parents in Australia to ensure their children have the appropriate knowledge and confidence to be safe around water and be equipped with the skills to help them in an emergency,” he said.

Data from the Royal Life Saving National Fatal Drowning Database showed from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, 248 Australians drowned – 12 of these were children under four years and nine were children aged five to 14 years. Of these incidents, 62 were in Queensland.

Sunshine Coast mother Sofie Wotton will never forget the terrified look on her baby’s face when her two-year-old daughter Tilsa fell headfirst into their backyard swimming pool.

“I was cleaning the pool and she was at the other end of it and she leaned over to grab something and fell headfirst into the water,” Mrs Wotton said.

“Just seeing your baby fall in a pool is the scariest thing you will ever see.

“The time it takes for you to get from where you are to where your baby is, it’s like running through mud – you can’t get there fast enough.”

Tilsa had been enrolled in swimming lessons eight weeks before the incident and was able to pop her head up, take a breath and paddle to the edge of the pool.

“It was such a wake-up call to see how quickly and silently it can happen,” Mrs Wotton said.

“If she hadn’t taken those swimming lessons she wouldn’t have done what she did and make it to the side. 

“Every parent should have their child in swimming lessons because you never know when it can happen.”

Royal Life Saving CEO Justin Scarr said the organisation had also seen a decline in swim school enrolments since pools and swim schools re-opened after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia and the National Aquatic Industry Safety Committee (NAISC) has released guidelines on the risk management of COVID-19 in aquatic facilities to assist aquatic centres and swim schools ensure the health and safety of their patrons, staff and the wider community.

“If a seven, eight or nine-year-old child can’t yet swim 50m and tread water for two minutes then they should be in swimming and water safety lessons,”
Mr Scarr said.

“Cost can be a barrier and we encourage parents to investigate State Government sport vouchers, planning ahead to enrol in the subsidised holiday programs and ask grandparents to gift lessons for birthdays.”

To help families access swimming lessons more easily, Swim Australia has launched a new initiative Swim it Forward.

The initiative aims to reduce barriers for parents by generating funds to help more families afford swimming lessons.

Donations for Swim It Forward