I didn’t know that I could drown because I know how to swim.
I didn’t know that panic is the first stage of drowning.
I didn’t know about dangerous currents in the Great Lakes.
I didn’t know that 80 percent of all drowning victims are male.
I didn’t know, yet there I was ... I was male. I was in a structural current. I was panicking. I could no longer swim. I was drowning.
Luckily I survived. I survived by floating. When I had given up my exhausted struggle to stay at the surface in the pounding waves, I luckily had enough float in my surfing wetsuit to stay at the surface and breathe — I could float, breathe, overcome the panic and eventually float back to shore.
After that nonfatal drowning event I co-founded the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.
And I didn’t know that “I didn’t know ...” would become the number one thing that we would hear from family and friends of drowning victims after a tragic event.
And when we listened to these “I didn’t know ...” factors from these families and friends of drowning victims, we realized that these factors were not complex ideas. These factors were actually quite simple.
Many people may think that these factors are common sense, but there is currently no common sense when it comes to water safety. Our society is so far behind the eight ball when it comes to water safety when compared to other public safety programs.
Answer these questions:
What do you do if your clothes catch on fire?
Yes. That’s right... Stop, Drop, and Roll.
What do you do if you are drowning?
Less than 5 percent of people we surveyed know a drowning survival strategy like “Float” or “Flip, Float, and Follow”.
Consider how often do you play in fire? Never.
And now consider how often you play in water. All the time.
So you never play in fire, but you know a fire survival strategy. Yet you always play in water, but you don’t know a water survival strategy.
Let that sink in and now truly understand that water safety is not common sense. We need a water safety school curriculum to save future generations from drowning.
Dave Benjamin is executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.