Drowning Detection

The Need for Drowning Detection Technologies

By Dave Cutler

The statistics speak for themselves. Despite the extreme importance of new pool safety legislation, the intentions of well-funded awareness and education campaigns, and all the hard work of diligent and dedicated aquatic professionals, needless and preventable drownings continue to occur each year at guarded aquatic facilities.

The ripple effect of a drowning—from the victim to their family to the staff and then the community, is heart-wrenchingly painful. The toll we pay as an industry for these needless tragedies often includes guilt, the public's loss of trust, and sometimes a heavy financial penalty. Drowning continues to devastate lives and communities over and over again, year after year. And it's getting worse.

It's time for things to change.

Just as with other recreational activities that invite their patrons to engage in a behavior that has inherent risk, such as cycling, skiing, rafting, boarding, etc., the time has come for aquatics as a whole to embrace and utilize additional layers of protection to dramatically reduce the risk of injury or death from swimming.

By far, the most exciting opportunity to provide that much needed additional layer of protection in aquatics comes from recent advancements in drowning detection technologies. These detection systems can dramatically reduce the risk of preventable drowning at guarded aquatic facilities, including pools, lakes or waterparks. The technologies do so by providing your aquatic staff with critical, untiring assistance in the monitoring of swimmers.

One of the biggest challenges in drowning detection is that in almost all incidents, it occurs very quietly and very quickly, with little or no discernible indicators. Like a silent, invisible shark, drowning "attacks" its victim in seconds, regardless of his or her age, socioeconomic background or physical ability.

However, if an event occurs unnoticed at a facility with a drowning detection system in operation, staff members are notified immediately of the situation so that they can intervene well before the event escalates into a totally needless and painful tragedy. This can have a tremendous and meaningful impact on the effort to reduce preventable drowning.

What seemed impossible, impractical and out of financial reach only a few years ago is now available. These technologies can elevate swimmer safety to a much higher and more effective standard of care. They can provide both your patrons and staff with peace of mind, knowing that all available precautions are in place to reduce the risk of death or injury while swimming.

Granted, the technologies may require behavioral change. So did seat belts and airbags. So did smoke detectors and bike helmets. Over time, however, those common-sense changes became commonplace activities, ingrained in our culture as the right thing to do. Utilizing a drowning detection technology at your aquatic facility is the right thing to do, too.

The technologies do require a financial investment, which is particularly difficult given the current economic climate. However, when considered from a pragmatic perspective, that investment is substantially offset by a number of factors.

First, insurance companies that cover aquatic facilities welcome and support efforts to improve patron safety, particularly when it comes to aquatics. Industry insiders have indicated that by far, costs associated with drowning settlements exceed any other risk, including those that stem from sexual abuse cases. The result from using a drowning detection system is that substantial premium reductions will likely be provided. Amortized over time, these reductions will significantly offset the cost of implementing a drowning detection system.

Second, some systems enable facilities to share the burden of cost associated with elevating swimmer safety with their patrons. For example, one technology requires that swimmers wear lightweight headbands or specialized goggle straps. These devices can be retailed to patrons, resulting in a new revenue stream. Depending on your number of patrons, and as with insurance premium reductions, over time this continuing revenue can help dramatically to reduce the cost of implementing a system.

Third, implementing a drowning detection technology at your facility represents a unique and powerful marketing opportunity. Simply stated, providing a higher standard of care and safety attracts and keeps patrons at your facility. This becomes more evident when one takes into account the incredible power and influence the "mommy network" has on a community.

In addition, greatly reducing the risk of drowning at your facility also greatly reduces the risk of your staff, facility and community experiencing the painful repercussions that result when a drowning occurs. Public support and interest sour, employee morale drops, and a shadow lingers over the facility for an indefinite period of time. The costs, beyond financial, are clearly immeasurable.

Simply put, investing in a drowning detection system is no different than the correct decision to invest in a sprinkler system, a security system or safer vehicles for transporting your patrons. It's the right thing to do.

With its rate increasing, drowning represents the greatest singular risk at any recreational facility that offers swimming. Fortunately, it is now possible to be proactive and take the much needed step of addressing and reducing that risk by implementing a drowning detection technology at your facility. Your staff, patrons and your peace of mind deserve it.


Dave Cutler is the co-founder of Aquatic Safety Concepts LLC, where he is director of product development for the company's patented drowning detection technology, the Wahooo Swim Monitor System (www.WahoooSMS.com). The company was formed as a response to a 9-year-old classmate of the founder's children drowning at a town park, despite the supervision of five lifeguards and six camp counselors.

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