In 2015, the New Zealand Water Safety Sector Strategy 2020 was launched. This strategy – the water safety sector’s collaborative approach to bringing New Zealand’s high drowning toll down to zero – includes a goal that every New Zealander receives the opportunity to develop water safety knowledge and skills.
Traditionally, there has been a focus on learn to swim programmes in New Zealand. The assumption has been that if you learn to swim, you have the necessary basic skills to survive in the water. We now know that this is not enough.
WSNZ undertook a review into the way basic water survival skills are taught to kids aged five to thirteen in New Zealand. The review looked at national and international water safety, swimming and drowning prevention research to find out whether the current teaching of aquatic skills in New Zealand provided kids with adequate water safety skills.
Research papers, surveys, practical evidence from other parts of the world (e.g. Bangladesh) as well as advice from New Zealand water safety sector experts indicated that the acquisition of a combination of water safety and swimming skills resulted in a reduction in young children drowning.
Based on this evidence, WSNZ found that there is a need for a greater emphasis on teaching water safety skills prior to stroke and distance focused swimming skills, and that offering exposure to a range of aquatic environments (such as rivers and cold open water where most New Zealand drownings occur) is a crucial part of water safety skills learning. WSNZ also identified that there is a need to establish a more consistent national approach to the teaching of water safety skills.
Water Skills for Life is the result of these findings and includes a range of swimming and water safety skills that kids are expected to have achieved by the time they are 13. These skills are crucial for the safe enjoyment of aquatic activities in a range of environments. Water Skills for Life also provide the essential basis for participating in most water-based sports.
If you’re interested in reading any of the background information and evidence that influenced the decision to make the shift towards Water Skills for Life please refer to:
Bierens, J.J.L.M. (Ed.) (2014) Drowning: Prevention, Rescue and Treatment (2nd edition)
Button C. et al (2015) ‘Integrative physiological and behavioural responses to sudden cold-water immersion are similar in skilled and less-skilled swimmers’. Physiology and Behaviour, Vol. 138; pp. 254-259
Connolly, J. (2014) ‘Drowning: The First Time Problem’. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8, 66-72
Connolly, J. (2014) ‘Drowning: The Exit Problem’. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8, 73-97
Hindmarch T, Melbye M. (2011) ‘Good swimmers drown more often than non-swimmers: How open water swimming could feature in beginner swimming’. In: Scarr J, Sharp M, Smeal M, Khoudair H, (Editors). World Conference on Drowning Prevention. International Life Saving Federation 2011.
International Life Saving Federation; Lifesaving Position Statement – LPS 15; Basic Aquatic Survival Skill (2012)
International Life Saving Federation; Lifesaving Position Statement – LPS 13; Use of Personal Flotation Devices (2012)
Kjendlie, P. et al (2013) ‘Can you swim in waves? Children’s swimming, floating, and entry skills in calm and simulated unsteady water conditions’. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. 7, 301-313
Kjendlie, P. et al (2011) ‘Water safety education is more than teaching swimming skills: Comprehensive drowning prevention education’. Poster Presentation World Conference on Drowning Prevention, Vietnam
Moran, K. (July 2013) ‘Defining ‘swim and survive’ in the context of New Zealand drowning prevention strategies: A discussion paper’.
Moran, K. (2014) ‘Getting out of the Water: How Hard Can That Be?’ International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8, 4, 321-337
Stallman. R et al. (2008) ‘The Teaching of Swimming Based on a model derived from the Causes of Drowning’. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2, 372-382
Stallman, R.K. (2011) ‘A graded approach to a definition of ‘Can Swim’. Workshop; World Conference on Drowning Prevention, Vietnam
Stallman et al (2011) ‘A Norwegian model of swimming competency’. Proceedings – World Conference on Drowning Prevention, Vietnam
Stallman R.K. et al (2011) ‘Bridging the gap – The transition between pool and open water: A pedagogical drowning prevention approach’. Poster Presentation; World Conference on Drowning Prevention, Vietnam.
Stallman R; Moran; K et al (2014) ‘Swimming and water survival competence.’ in Bierens, J (Ed.) Drowning: Prevention, Rescue and Treatment (2nd edition)
Stallman, R.K., et al (2015 abstract - unpublished) ‘From “Swimming Skill” to “Water Competence”: Towards a more inclusive drowning prevention future.’
Wallis BA, Way K (2015) ‘Interventions associated with drowning prevention in children and adolescents: systematic literature review’. Injury Prevention, 21 (3) pp. 195-204.