The Lifesaving Society

The Lifesaving Society

May 15, 2006 07:00 ET

The Lifesaving Society of Canada: Canadians Believe Kids Have a Right to Learn Swimming, and Schools Should Offer Swim Instruction, New Poll Shows

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - May 15, 2006) -

As Summer Draws Near, Nearly Half Of Canadians Admit To Having Experienced a Scare Near Water

NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo of Barbara Underhill and her 6-year-old son, Scott Gaetz, receiving his Swim to Survive certificate, will be available on the CP picture wire via CCNMatthews.

A new study sponsored by The Lifesaving Society shows that almost all Canadians (98 per cent) agree that swimming is a life skill that every child should learn, and 92 per cent believe that swimming instruction should be provided through schools.

These findings come as the Victoria Day long weekend approaches, which is commonly thought of as the unofficial summer kick-off weekend and is often associated with backyard pool openings and the beginning of cottage season. Almost half (48 per cent) of Canadians surveyed admitted that they have had a past experience near water in which they feared for someone's safety.

"Summer is almost upon us, and summer is synonymous with water play," says Barbara Byers, Public Education Director for the Lifesaving Society, Canada's lifeguarding experts. "With almost 50 per cent of Canadians admitting that they've experienced or witnessed a near accident, it's critically important to ensure that Canadians, and especially children, have the swimming skills they need to survive an unexpected fall into water this summer."

Poll Results At A Glance:

- 98 per cent of Canadians agree that swimming is a life skill that every child should learn

- 91 per cent of Canadians believe that children should learn how to swim as part of a school safety program

- 48 per cent of Canadians admit that they've had an experience around water that caused them to fear for someone's safety

Last year, on the heels of a tragic drowning of two young boys in Ontario, The Lifesaving Society introduced a new program called Swim to Survive, which outlines the minimum standard of swimming ability necessary for survival in Canada. The program focuses on achieving a single skill sequence (roll into deep water, tread water for one minute and swim 50 metres) and can be taught in as little as three hours.

Today in Ontario, the Swim To Survive program was given a significant boost when the Ontario Ministry of Education announced a grant to The Lifesaving Society of almost $1 million dollars ($935,700) to provide more than 30,000 Grade 3 students with the opportunity to participate in the Swim to Survive program.

Barbara Underhill, former Canadian world champion in pairs figure skating, has been actively involved in promoting water safety and the Swim to Survive program as a result of personal tragedy when her eight and a half month old daughter Stephanie Gaetz drowned in the family's backyard pool 13 years ago.

"I'm so pleased to see that Canadians understand the importance of water safety for children, and that they believe it should be mandatory in the school system," said Barbara Underhill, co-founder of the Stephanie Gatez KEEPSAFE Foundation. "We need all children to reach a minimum standard in water safety. It can save so many lives and so much pain and suffering."

As Canadians prepare to spend the summer at lakes, rivers, beaches and pools, it is important to note that most drownings and near drownings occur in unsupervised outdoor waterways, and Canada is rich with lakes, rivers and beaches. Over 400 Canadians die every year in water-related incidents. Young victims less than five years of age were usually momentarily unsupervised and playing near water (backyard pool, lakes, rivers, or bathtub) when they drowned.

"It only takes a minute, even seconds, for a child to drown," said Underhill. "For an investment of just a few hours of instruction, parents can reduce the risk of a terrible tragedy. Having said that, the Swim to Survive program is not meant to replace standard swimming lessons - it provides only the minimal standard for survival."

The Lifesaving Society's Swim to Survive program focuses on achieving a single skill sequence: roll into deep water, tread water for one minute and swim 50 metres. Any method that allows the learner to achieve the standard is acceptable - there is no "right" solution.

1. Roll into deep water: The deep-water roll teaches the learner to orient themselves at the surface after an unexpected fall.

2. Tread water for 1 minute: Canadian waters are generally cold enough year-round to trigger a gasping reflex on unexpected immersion. Treading water teaches the learner to support at the surface and protect the airway.

3. Swim 50 metres: Lifesaving Society research shows that most drownings occur within 3 to 15 metres of safety. Because the ability of the learner may be impaired by cold water, clothing etc., there is a 50-metres standard to compensate.

Since the Swim to Survive program first launched in the City of Mississauga in 2005, other Ontario municipalities and school boards have taken an interest in the program. Cities such as the City of Toronto, York Region, Ottawa, London and Kitchener have shown an interest in incorporating the program into a part of the school safety program and some have commenced pilot programs.

The program is ideal for groups from schools, camps, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts and others who have limited time and diverse abilities. The program can also be offered as a stand-alone program or on a drop-in basis. Parents should contact their local swimming facility for more information, or visit

About The Stephanie Gaetz KEEPSAFE Foundation

The Stephanie Gaetz KEEPSAFE Foundation is a registered, private charitable foundation dedicated to preventing childhood injuries. The Foundation was launched by Barbara Underhill and Rick Gaetz after the tragic death or their daughter Stephanie in 1993. The Foundation funds and supports safety-related programs across the country. For more information, please visit or call 1-866-383-9733.

About The Lifesaving Society

The Lifesaving Society, Canada's lifeguarding experts, is a charitable organization working to prevent drowning and water-related injury through its training programs, Water Smart® public education and safety management services. Each year in Canada, the Society certifies more than 500,000 people in its swim, lifesaving, lifeguarding and leadership courses. For more information, please visit

About the TNS Express Survey

The study was conducted via TNS Express Telephone, TNS Canadian Facts' bi-weekly telephone omnibus survey, between April 3rd and April 6th 2006 for The Lifesaving Society. TNS Express Telephone interviews approximately 1,000 Canadians 18 years of age and older. The results are considered accurate within a tolerance range of +/- 3.1 per cent, nineteen times out of twenty.

The sample is a nationally representative sample of Canadian adults 18 years of age and older designed to provide coverage of all households with telephones except those in the northern territories. The sample is distributed disproportionately by region across Canada. Within any region, the sample is drawn proportionate to household population. Weighting adjustments are made at the tabulation stage.

Telephone numbers are selected from the most up-to-date electronic white pages telephone directories. At the household level, one person is selected from all eligible residents (18 years and over). Most recent birthday at home selection procedure is used for this purpose. No substitutions at the household or individual selection stages are permitted.

Contact Information

  • For more information or to book an interview with
    Barbara Underhill or Barbara Byers, please contact:
    Jennifer Meneses, Praxis Public Relations
    (905) 949-8255 ext.221 or (416) 898-5809 (cell)
    Praxis Public Relations
    Maureen Juniper
    (905) 949-8255 ext.226
    The Lifesaving Society
    Barbara Byers
    (416) 490-8844 or (416) 727-5636 (cell)