With drowning as the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, the World Health Organization recommends that all countries create a water safety plan that addresses a nation’s drowning problem. While not having the highest drowning rate, the U.S. does have a drowning rate higher than in Australia, the UK, Austria, Barbados, and Jamaica, for example.
Every day in the U.S., about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S.
According to the WHO, coastal drowning in the United States alone accounts for $273 million each year in direct and indirect costs.
The ZAC Foundation is deeply involved in the development, launch, and oversight of the U.S. National Water Safety Action Plan through its membership on the Steering Committee.
Four years in the making, the plan serves as a national roadmap for collective action to reduce drowning and is guided by the values of collaboration, equity, and data-driven solutions. It is intended to inform and advise legislators, aquatics operators, and those motivated to reduce drownings in their community.
Our Approach to Drowning Prevention:
Building A Drowning Prevention Plan: Our Focus Areas
Created by over 80 subject-matter experts, and informed by evidence-based research and nearly 400 community-level advocates across 48 states, the 10-year plan includes 99 recommendations for implementing at the federal, state, and local level to reduce drownings, with a focus on six areas:
- Data & Public Health Surveillance: The ZAC Foundation is partnering with organizations to actively monitor data surrounding fatal and non-fatal drownings.
- Lifeguards & Supervision: The national lifeguard shortage has brought about an additional challenge that is a crucial factor in maintaining water safety. Lifeguards play a key role in ensuring a safe environment for swimmers at pools and public beaches. The ZAC Foundation works with organizations to create standards of supervision, lifeguard re-certifications, and more. Read more about how teens can help address these shortages.
- Life Jackets, Personal Flotation Devices & Other Flotation Devices: We work to increase the use of Coast Guard certified and approved life jackets as a means of keeping children safe in water.
- Rescue & CPR: Addressing CPR and rescue training among water watchers is key to water safety.
- Barriers, Entrapment & Electrical Safety: Our water safety guide discusses using fences and other pool safety gear as a way of creating additional barriers to the water. We review standards, regulations and codes for any gear that may reduce unsupervised access to water.
- Water Safety, Water Competency & Swimming Lessons: The ZAC Foundation works alongside our partners to build water competency among children across the nation. We identify water-safe behaviors and work to develop policies around water safety education for children of all ages.
The ZAC Foundation was instrumental in the development of the Plan, advocating for regulations and tactics protecting children in the water on a national scale, including:
- Implementing consistent messaging nationwide for parents and caregivers supervising children in/near the water.
- Requiring that new and existing residential pools in the U.S. have mechanisms to prevent suction entrapment, in alignment with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA).
- Provide affordable water safety and swim lesson programming to meet the needs of BIPOC children at higher risk of drowning.
- Expand CPR training in schools with age-appropriate content for grades K–12.
View the full plan.
The Process for Building a National Water Safety Plan
The completion of the National Water Safety Action Plan has been a 3-stage process:
- Stage 1 – Completed – All committee members reviewed the existing national plan to inform the new framework for a U.S Plan.
- Stage 2 – Completed – The committee established focus areas to identify best practices, data and gaps at national, state, and community levels to guide goals, objectives, and actions for recommended models at all levels.
- Stage 3 – Completed – The committee convened a high-level expert panel to finalize and launch the plan in June 2023.
Steering Committee Partners in Building a National Drowning Prevention Plan
The ZAC Foundation is an engaged partner within the Steering Committee for the National Water Safety Action Plan. We collaborate with the organizations and stakeholders below to provide strategic oversight as the plan is developed nationwide.
- Dr. Linda Quan, Pediatrician and Researcher, American Academy of Pediatrics
- Connie Harvey, Director of the Aquatics Centennial Initiative, American Red Cross
- David Bell, Aquatics Subcommittee, Boy Scouts of America
- Rebecca Wear Robinson, Founder and President, Make the Minute Matter
- Adam Katchmarchi, Executive Director, National Drowning Prevention Alliance
- Morag MacKay, Director of Research, Safe Kids Worldwide (Committee Chair)
- Megan Ferraro, Executive Director, The ZAC Foundation
- Tina Dessart, Program Director, USA Swimming Foundation
- Lindsay Mondick, Director, Innovative Priorities – Movement Services, YMCA of the USA
The ZAC Foundation hopes this plan will transform water safety in the United States, as well as help save lives today and for generations to come. Visit Water Safety USA’s National Water Safety Action Plan page to learn more.
Drowning Prevention: Actions Taken Thus Far
The ZAC Foundation is working with drowning prevention stakeholders, including swim safety advocates, elected officials, public policy and health experts, school officials, families, and community leaders, in four U.S. communities — Central Texas, St. Louis, MO, Chicago, IL, and Greenwich/Fairfield County, CT – where there is need and deep community engagement.
TZF has established Regional Drowning Prevention Task Forces in these communities so they can develop goal-oriented, time-bound community Drowning Prevention Action Plans. While the ultimate goal of this work is to reduce the drowning rate and improve water safety, we hope that these regional activities also lead to the development of a national drowning prevention plan.
The work of these Regional Drowning Prevention Task Forces has included:
- Working with a local utility company to include drowning prevention and water safety tips in a monthly newsletter
- Developing a better data collection tool for Task Force partners to capture fatal and nonfatal drownings
- Posting new, improved signage indicating when lifeguards are not on duty at lakefronts and when riptides are present
- Partnering with after school programs to develop water safety curriculums
- Working with local first responders on water safety rescue training and updating rescue equipment
- Developing a public education campaign to inform the public on how to accurately report the nature and location of a water emergency