People are safer if they know how to swim. If everyone knew how to swim, the world’s population would be a safer.
When do you know enough about swimming to be safe?
The test that doesn’t test for safety
To test whether people can swim, traditional swim instruction agencies have historically used tests that are virtually irrelevant to safety. Passing the traditional test allows this: “I can do freestyle for 25 yards, even if I struggle to do it, can’t get air, and can’t stop in the middle to rest because it’s deep and I panic in water over my head. I pass it because I squirm and struggle to stay afloat for a minute as the test requires.” Someone who fits that description—yet passes—cannot swim and is not safe. But if they are given the thumbs up as having passed, they leave lessons thinking, and saying, “I can swim.” This is a recipe for disaster.
We espouse a test to make sure people are calm in water over their heads. If they are, they understand the water. They can swim.
To test whether someone can swim before they leave swimming lessons, two things must be done:
Many people have passed that test that way. They would likely panic and drown or be injured in a water emergency.
“I Can Swim” must be defined as, “I am calm and self-reliant for my safety in water over my head.” This need not include formal strokes.
To test for that, we need a new swim test. It must prove a person’s understanding of his/her buoyancy and presence of mind in deep water.
The test has three components:
1. Stand on the bottom of a pool at least 8 feet deep for 10 seconds peacefully. This demonstrates someone who’s in control of his/her buoyancy and understands his/her safety by sinking. She knows sinking can be safe. She’s in control of coming up when she wants.
Not all people can sink at will. Most cannot, but most people don’t know this. It’s imperative that this be part of the test to demonstrate that a person knows her own buoyancy. Either she can’t get to the bottom, or she can drop to it at will. If she can’t sink, she has proven to herself that she can float without effort.
2. Rise to the surface and rest…
Rise to the surface and float or play independently for 10 minutes peacefully, at least 10 feet from any support.
This demonstrates a person’s understanding of how to come up and to maintain comfort at the surface, get air at will, unperturbed by the depth, which should be irrelevant to a person’s ability to remain safe. This demonstration rules out fear of deep water. Someone who’s afraid would not be peaceful for this test, nor would he be able to sustain himself there for 10 minutes detached from the possibility of reaching for a support.
That is the full test.