Washington, DC - The American Red Cross today launched a new national campaign to reduce the drowning rate by 50 percent in 50 cities over the next three to five years.

To mark its 100 years of swimming safety education, the Red Cross is planning to teach 50,000 more people in the 50 selected cities across 19 states how to swim, and is urging people across the country to make sure that they and their families can swim.

“We're asking every family to make sure that both adults and children can swim and that parents make water safety a priority this summer,” said Connie Harvey, director of the Red Cross Centennial Initiative.

The new Red Cross drowning prevention campaign comes at a time when a new national survey shows that people believe they are better swimmers than they actually are. The survey, conducted for the Red Cross, found that while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.

These critical water safety skills, also known as “water competency,” are the ability to: step or jump into the water over your head; return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute; turn around in a full circle and find an exit; swim 25 yards to the exit; and exit from the water. If in a pool, you must be able to exit without using the ladder.

Overall, the survey finds that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills. Other key survey findings are:

  • About one in three (33 percent) African Americans reports that they can perform all five basic swimming skills, compared to 51 percent of whites. The survey showed that 84 percent of whites and 69 percent of African Americans say they can swim.
  • Just four in ten parents of children ages 4-17 report that their child can perform all five basic swimming skills, yet more than nine in 10 (92 percent) say that their child is likely to participate in water activities this summer.
  • Men are significantly more likely than women to report that they have all five basic swimming skills (57 percent for men compared to 36 percent of women.)

The survey found that nearly half of Americans (46 percent) report that they have had an experience in the water where they were afraid they might drown. In addition, one in five (19 percent) said they knew someone who had drowned, and 20 percent knew someone who nearly drowned.

Every day, an average of 10 people die in the U.S. from unintentional drowning – 20 percent of them are children aged 14 or younger, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and sixth for people of all ages. In addition, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Many People Planning Summer Water Activities in Areas Without Lifeguards

The new Red Cross drowning prevention campaign begins as summer gets underway, and eight out of 10 Americans are planning water activities such as going to the beach, pool, water park, or boating or fishing this summer. A third (32 percent) of all Americans plan to swim at a place this summer without a lifeguard.

While stronger swimming skills would reduce the risk of drowning, the Red Cross survey found that only 2 percent of adults plan to take swimming lessons this summer and about one in five children ages 4-17 (20 percent) are likely to take swimming lessons this summer.

“Parents across the country can enroll their child in Red Cross swim lessons and download the free Red Cross Swim App to track a child’s swim progress and water competency,” Harvey said. “Adults need to know how to be safe in the water even before they can protect their children and can take a Red Cross swim course for adults. But just as importantly, parents should learn about water safety and know how to respond to a water emergency.”

The 50 cities selected for the Red Cross drowning prevention campaign have high numbers of drowning deaths or high drowning rates. The campaign will reach 19 states across the country, including Florida, Louisiana, California, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland and New York. The Red Cross campaign will start in 10 cities this year and expand to all 50 cities in the years ahead during the campaign rollout.

The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross April 17-20, 2014 using ORC International’s Online CARAVAN omnibus survey. The study was conducted among a national sample of 1,024 American adults, including 201 parents of children aged 4-17. The total sample is balanced to be representative of the US adult population in terms of age, sex, geographic region, race and education. The margin of error for the total sample of 1,024 adults is ±3.1%; the margin of error for the sample of 201 parents is ±6.9%.