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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Adults need water safety skills too

Saichand Chowdary
The view of the Boston Harbor from the front lawn of the Campus Center. Photo by Saichand Chowdary / Mass Media Staff.

We are surrounded by more water than we can recognize. UMass Boston is right on the ocean, with the waves visible from nearly every building on campus. When we go home, water again is found in the shower, bath and kitchen sink. During the summer, thousands of people flock to lakes, rivers, public pools and beaches to relax, play and swim. But everywhere there is water, there is a certain level of danger as well.

By the end of today, ten people will have died from accidental drowning in the United States, according to the Red Cross. [1] In Massachusetts particularly, drownings have increased in the past few years—the Massachusetts government reported 58 unintended drowning deaths in 2021 alone. [2] Drowning is unexpected, quick and oftentimes preventable. However, according to the CDC, it still remains the leading cause of death for children ages one to four and occurs at staggering rates in Black and Indigenous communities. [3] You’d be hard pressed to meet someone who hasn’t been touched by drowning in some way, whether it was someone they knew or even themselves. It’s a heartbreaking reality.

It is so incredibly important to know how to swim, or at least have knowledge of water safety. Having little to no experience with swimming lessons not only increases one’s risk of drowning, but also can instill or exacerbate a fear of swimming. Although there are a multitude of reasons why someone might not know how to swim—lack of access to lessons, anxiety, ability—it is possible to learn at any age. Many adults who can’t swim feel ashamed and do not want to take swim lessons because they think they’re too old to learn, or maybe they think that since they’re older, it is possible to avoid being in dangerous aquatic environments. This is false.

Anyone can learn to swim, at any age, just like learning how to speak a new language or even riding a bike. Anyone can drown, and many situations result from people trying so hard to be safe that they are caught off-guard. In addition, drinking or using drugs makes one more susceptible to drowning, so pool parties and the like can very quickly become fatal. Many teenagers and college-age adults drink while at social events, resulting in impaired judgement and increased risk-taking behavior. It is understandable how this can lead to drowning and makes it all the more important to be safe and make smart decisions around water.  

Water can be intensely dangerous, but it is also beautiful and soothing. Knowing how to swim goes beyond safety: It allows people to fully enjoy all that pools, lakes and beaches have to offer. As a swim instructor who has been teaching for five years, I have found that adults who learn how to swim not only gain essential life-saving skills but also learn to love the water. Being scared is completely understandable, but it should not deter you from attempting to receive swim lessons in a controlled environment.  

If you don’t know how to swim, I suggest beginning at your local pool. In Boston, adult swim lessons are offered through the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, the Y, the Boys and Girls Club, and private providers. Many of these options provide affordable, if not free, comprehensive and accessible swim lessons that can be worked into any schedule. It might be more difficult to commit to swim lessons, especially with school, work, family and other obligations, but it can be done. And it is indisputably worth it.

Starting the process is the hardest part of learning how to be safe in water. Letting go of any shame or previous misconceptions about swimming is substantially more difficult than actually getting in the water and learning. Once you know how to float and be submerged underwater, it only becomes easier to advance to swimming alone. It’s a process that involves patience and dedication, with a tremendously valuable result. If you are thinking about learning to swim, or even refreshing your skills, go for it now. Take the steps not just to help yourself be safe, but also to relieve the weight of worrying about your swimming abilities. Open this first door and gain the skills that will allow you to enjoy going through many more.


[1] https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html  

[2] https://www.mass.gov/info-details/drowning-data-and-facts  

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/drowning/facts/index.html