Kids swimming circles around their parents

Hannah Caine and daughter Florence at the Andrew Boy€ Charlton pool in Manly Vale.
Hannah Caine and daughter Florence at the Andrew Boy€ Charlton pool in Manly Vale.  Photo: Nick Moir

While today's kids might take to swimming like ducks to water, alarming figures show the same cannot be said for many adults. 

A generational shift in attitudes has seen a marked improvement in the uptake of lessons for children, but a survey has revealed 51 per cent of Australian adults over the age of 50 can't swim 50 metres without stopping, and 12 per cent had never received formal swimming lessons.

The findings of the national study, commissioned by Kingswim, reflects the Royal Life Saving 2018 Drowning Report, with 32 per cent of drowning deaths occurring in the 55-plus age range compared to 19 per cent for under 25s

Kingswim marketing manager, Rowena Thomasson said research revealed that swimming capabilities declined over the age of 50.

"While these are terrible statistics it's not all sad news, the survey revealed younger demographics had a much higher swimming ability, which correlated to the swimming lessons they received as children," Ms Thomasson said. 

"Close to half of 18-24-year-olds surveyed say they had swimming lessons through three or more channels, with 84 per cent believing they received adequate swimming lessons as a child – demonstrating how crucial it is for children to receive professional swimming lessons in addition to anything taught at home.

"At the other end of the age spectrum among people aged 65-plus, around 60 per cent either received lessons through only one channel, or can't swim at all."

Balgowlah mother Hannah Caine is one parent who hopes swimming lessons from a young age will help her daughter be a more confident swimmer as an adult than she is.

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Four-year-old daughter Florence attends weekly lessons at Andrew Boy Charlton Aquatic Centre at North Manly. Hannah, 38, grew up in the UK said she probably didn't even get into a swimming pool until she was at least four years old before learning to swim when she was at primary school.

"I wouldn't describe myself as a strong swimmer," she said. "I don't do ocean swimming as I lack confidence, and I would probably benefit from some lessons to improve my technique as well. I never enjoyed swimming lessons as a child, so haven't done a great deal of swimming as an adult.

"Florence really enjoys her swimming lessons. She has a grin on her face the whole time, which is so good to see. If they don't enjoy it as children, it's unlikely they'll swim regularly as adults. I wish that I enjoyed swimming more and was better at it, given that it is such a good way to stay fit."

Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) National Coastal Safety Manager Shane Dawe said it was important all people, regardless of their age, learn to swim and be educated about swim safety.

"It is essential for all persons who are responsible for children or others to understand the risks and hazards that exist at coastal (all aquatic) locations and how to stay safe," he said.

"Understanding how to stay safe in all aquatic locations is without doubt critical, be it the backyard pool, river, lake, bath through to the beach and open coast.

"Drowning deaths and injury occur at all locations and in many instances are avoidable."

He also stressed the importance of kids and adults learning to swim in a variety of places, not just the pool, as there are unique conditions to navigate.

"It is important to note that swimming in a pool is a very different experience than swimming in an open ocean, and comes with different skills," Mr Dawe said.

"Your limits, and those of the children you're supervising, may be very different in an ocean environment. By understanding how to identify hazards such as rip currents, rocky coasts, high surf zones and other potential dangers means that these can be avoided. 

"Understanding your limits, and what to do in an emergency are also key factors to enjoying a great day at the beach."

Other safety tips include:

  • Where possible, swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags
  • Obey the safety signs at the beach 
  • Learn how to identify a rip current and look for rip currents before deciding where to swim
  • If you're not sure, ask a lifesaver or lifeguard about the beach conditions
  • Wear a lifejacket while boating, rock fishing or paddling
  • Don't go into or on the ocean during severe weather warnings
  • Take personal responsibility, think twice and assess your safety before entering the water
  • Supervise children at all times in, on and around water
  • Call 000 if assistance is required