Black Swimming Association Calls For Urgent Water Safety Education With Black Children Seven Times More Likely To Drown Than White Children

image001 (4)
Photo Courtesy: Black Swimming Association

Black Swimming Association Calls For Urgent Water Safety Education With Black Children Seven Times More Likely To Drown Than White Children

A near-drowning experience on holiday underlined to Black Swimming Association chair Danielle Obe the urgent need for water safety education and its prioritisation across society.

Obe was on a family holiday last year with her husband and two young daughters – all of them “water babies” – when she went to a popular swimming spot at their resort.

It entailed going through an underwater cave and on through a waterfall to a ramp where she’d be greeted by her children.

However, shocked by the water going from waist-deep to a depth where she couldn’t stand compounded by a commotion from others around her who she later found out were diving to retrieve someone’s glasses, Obe soon tired.

2023-08-11 (2)

Danielle Obe: Photo Courtesy: Black Swimming Association

She started to thrash around, panicking, wondering why others didn’t see she was in trouble and then realised her lifejacket had failed.

Although she managed to eventually get through the waterfall and reunite with her family, the shock made her instantly resolve to take survival and lifeguarding lessons.

It also underlined to Obe the need for water safety awareness to be placed front and centre.

She told Swimming World:

“I thought to myself ‘what an irony that I would have drowned on holiday.’

“It can happen to anyone – no-one’s infallible.

“You ask someone can you swim? If you ask someone – if you were in trouble in the water would you know what to do? Would you know what to do if you saw someone else in trouble in the water? I would have answered no. Either you do or you don’t.

“That’s a stronger answer, the stronger question.

“And so this year one of our safety messages has been whenever you travel to any country know the emergency number. It’s not 999 everywhere, it’s not 911.

“If you are in a group, stay with the group.

“Don’t assume that every life jacket or buoyancy device will keep you buoyant. Throw it in the water and if it floats, use it but if it doesn’t float then that one will be like that for ever. If you wear it – just like mine – it will fail.

“The messages we’re giving are from lived experiences and that is what has gone out this year because of that experience.

“Don’t go on holiday and assume everything will be fine – it could happen to you.”

‘Our Swim Story’

Obe was speaking after the publication of the BSA’s research report ‘Our Swim Story’ which in turn followed data from the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) which highlighted a major disparity in drowning rates amongst children of ethnic minority backgrounds when compared to children of White or White British ethnicity.

  • Black or Black British-7.50 per million children
  • Mixed- 3.12 per million children
  • Asian and Asian British- 2.86 per million children
  • White or White British- 1.87 per million children

The BSA engaged 1,400 people from Black and Asian communities to discover their water safety knowledge and personal experiences and so identify 11 core themes that contribute to these statistics.

As a result, a series of recommendations were made based on the data which were discussed at 10 Downing Street on World Drowning Prevention Day on 25 July.

Among the findings:

The survey identified a number of complex barriers faced by individuals of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage, including:

Water Safety Awareness: 48% didn’t know how to stay safe in the water​ putting them at risk of drowning

A Lack of Aquatic Skill: Over 35% of respondents indicated that improving their aquatic skills would contribute to an increase in participation. However, participants were not deterred from engaging in aquatic activities during holidays abroad, which would place them at significant risk

Early Experiences: Early experiences in childhood often shaped attitudes toward swimming. Positive early experiences were associated with aquatic participation in adulthood, as well as greater swimming competence and confidence, whereas negative early experiences and disruptions while learning to swim contributed to disengagement

Fear of the Water: 44% said they had a fear of water and 34% said they (or someone in their family) had experienced a traumatic aquatic event

Aquatic Cultures: Differences between the UK and respondents’ home countries, regarding the way in which swimming is taught and the aquatic activities offered, contributed to the disinterest of participants (especially those from Caribbean backgrounds). In addition, some participants highlighted that within families of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage swimming was not viewed as a priority

Socio-economic, Structural and Practical Barriers: Over 30% of respondents identified finances as a factor that impacted their participation

Awareness of Aquatic Activities

The Body, Hair and Skin: Concerns regarding privacy, modesty and body consciousness were most prominent among older and Muslim participants. Black and Asian participants were also concerned about the costs associated with having to purchase the swimwear, body and haircare products that suit their needs.

Aquatic Perceptions: 80% felt aquatic activities were a viable sport or fitness option for themselves or others from their ethnic or cultural community yet 84% felt aquatic activity was uncommon in their community

Stereotypes and Visibility: Some participants raised concerns about the impact of stereotypes on aquatic interest within Black and Asian communities.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) – who joined forces with the BSA in 2021 – this year launched its ‘Float To Live’ campaign, five steps to take to ensure you float if you’re struggling in the water.

There have long been stereotypes and myths that have created barriers, one being that Black people have big bones and don’t float.

Obe said:

“That is one thing we’ve heard for years and that is something we have grown up with for years.

“Everyone can be taught how to float.

“But the wider significance: if someone believes they’ve got big bones and can’t float and you then take a Float To Live message to them, it’s not going to land.”

Now the BSA are conducting a study around floating and physiology, Obe said:

“This research will either take away this myth or have a campaign that says even some Caucasians don’t float easily. It has nothing to do with ethnicity but everything to do with the way your body is formed regardless of what ethnicity you are.

“And if you take out a message like that and go actually this is how you can learn to float then suddenly we have removed one of the barriers to us having that education that we need that could save our lives.

“I bring that to say the whole education and learning and change of mindset has to happen on both sides of the bridge with the community and the sector.”

BSA Community Journey

The BSA’s Community Journey is a pathway ranging from those at minus three who are unaware of the need for water safety awareness through to plus two where after engaging with and participating in learn-to-swim programmes, they’re able to pursue other aquatic pathways such as working opportunities or wider aquatic activities.

2023-08-10 (2)

As a result of the report, the BSA made 11 recommendations:

  1. Use a replicable inclusivity framework to understand local communities
  2. Provide aquatic and swimming orientations
  3. Develop the BSA’s Community Journey™ to make it an open, interactive and accessible resource
  4. Recruit and train an ethnically diverse workforce
  5. Strive to achieve an aquatically active culture through an inclusive approach to policy planning
  6. Prioritise addressing aquatic risk factors in all relevant policies and plans
  7. Ensure that the lived experiences of ethnically diverse communities are amplified and central to efforts to promote an inclusive and aquatically active culture
  8. Clearly define the necessary aquatic capabilities and swimming competencies needed for safe aquatic engagement
  9. Increase access to water safety knowledge and skills sessions for ethnically diverse communities
  10. Widely disseminate digital and physical resources on water safety to ethnically diverse communities
  11. Collect drowning data by ethnicity

At the core of it all is the need for greater water safety awareness

Obe concluded:

“Nobody regardless of ethnicity or culture wants to bury a loved one.

“So if you talk to people about learning to swim as an activity then it just becomes an activity that they may or may not be interested in.

“If you talk to people about fundamentally being safe and not losing a loved one then they start to listen regardless of culture and ethnicity.”

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 months ago


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x