Background Many competencies are required to survive a drowning event, especially in open water where most drownings occur. Traditional understanding of surviving a drowning have been based on swimming competency, determined simplistically by how far a person can swim. However, swimming ability alone is unlikely to offer much protection from drowning. Rather, a more complex understanding of water competencies involved is needed, especially in respect to the high incidence of adult drowning in countries such as New Zealand. This presentation addresses this concern by examining the gap between perception and reality.
Methods Adults’ perceived water competence was measured against their actual water competence in both closed (pool) and open water environments. Five water competencies were measured, entry, exit, distance swim, timed fast swim and floating.
Results Despite most adults (98%) unable to swim more than 100m in open water, more than one-half (59%) perceived themselves as good swimmers, and over one-quarter (27%) thought they could swim more than 200m. Furthermore, adults reported a higher perception of floating competence despite one-quarter not being able to float for 15 seconds in a pool.
Conclusion Gaps between perception and reality were found in water competence among adult groups, especially in open water settings. Differences between perceived and actual competence have underestimated risk and overestimated their competency, providing a plausible explanation of why many adults drown.
Learning Outcome Relationships with water safety attitudes and risk perceptions are discussed to provide recommendations for the prevention of drowning among adults.
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